Mastic to Your Stomach's Rescue

Mastic Creates Gastrointestinal Harmony
By Will Block
Herbal product provides counterpoint to triple drug therapy

he renowned nineteenth-century violinist Niccolò Paganini's gastrointestinal problems may have been caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which has only in the last two decades been revealed as a cause of dyspepsia, ulcers, and stomach cancer. Ironically, Paganini might have soothed that beastly bacterium if he had added mastic - an ingredient in the varnish used by the legendary violinmakers of Cremona, Italy - to his diet.

Mastic has been used for inflamed tumors, induration (hardening) of the uterus, liver, and spleen, tumors of the stomach, and cancer in ancient Rome, Greece, and possibly earlier civilizations,1 but knowledge of its use has been lost and found again many times in different parts of the world. And it wasn't until 20 years ago that its ability to kill H. pylori and alleviate the symptoms of ulcers was suspected and eventually confirmed.

Music, Violins, and Mastic

Paganini was an early pop star, a brilliant showman whose enthralling blend of technical virtuosity and emotional intensity evoked musical bliss in his audience. But despite his wildly successful career, the celebrated musician endured a lifetime of misery. Plagued by multiple illnesses - some caused by the very drugs through which he sought relief - Paganini suffered devastating gastrointestinal symptoms that, strange as it may seem, might have been eased by ingesting a simple ingredient in the varnish on his violin.


Mastic cures by killing H. pylori,
the cause of most ulcers and of
many gastrointestinal
carcinomas as well.

Dubbed "the devil's violinist" for his unearthly prowess and cadaverous appearance, Paganini was also known for his ecstatic communion with his instruments - and what instruments they were! The unique tonal brilliance achieved by the great violinmakers of sixteenth-through-eighteenth-century Cremona (most notably the Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivari families) is believed to arise in part from the extraordinary varnishes they used - closely guarded secret formulas that contained mastic gum, a common substance used throughout the Mediterranean as a medical antiseptic and food preservative.

The resin was imported into Italy from the Greek island of Chios, where it had been cultivated and harvested from a variety of pistachio tree (Pistacia lentiscus) for thousands of years. Today mastic is used primarily for gastrointestinal health and as a chewing gum base and flavoring additive. In eighteenth-century Europe, it was employed as a binding substance in furniture and instrument varnish, as well as a folk remedy to restore, maintain, and enhance gastrointestinal function.

Mastic Eases Gastrointestinal Distress

 
Pistacia lentiscus

Recent studies2 have confirmed this medicinal usage, finding that mastic cures by killing H. pylori, the cause of most ulcers and of many gastrointestinal carcinomas as well. Mastic also eases other gastrointestinal complaints, such as dyspepsia (chronic indigestion) and gastritis, soothing a range of symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, gas, and bloating by killing other insidious gastrointestinal bacteria.

Surprisingly, the H. pylori bacterium has been estimated to be present in 30-40% of the U.S. population, and it is the world's most common chronic infection.3

H. pylori causes chronic infection of the gastrointestinal tract from the lower to the upper portion, where it is implicated in dyspepsia and ulcerative problems, as well as life-threatening diseases such as squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx4 - the cancer that finally killed Paganini in 1840.

Mastic Kills H. pylori

In a recent study, scientists revisited questions about mastic's anti-H.pylori properties.5 Their findings essentially concurred with the groundbreaking work of Huwez et al. published in 1998, which found mastic resin to be extremely effective in killing the bacterium.2 In this new evaluation of the resin's antibacterial activity against clinical hybrid strains of H.pylori, mastic was shown to kill significant populations of the gastrointestinal bug at low concentrations - the same findings as those of Huwez et al. Mastic killed 50% of the 16 strains tested at a concentration of 125 mcg/ml and 90% of the 16 strains at a concentration of 500 mcg/ml. The researchers also noted that mastic produced alterations, abnormalities, and fragmentation in H. pylori cells, making it difficult for the ulcer-causing bug to survive in the body.


Mastic was shown to kill significant
populations of the gastrointestinal
bug at low concentrations.

As other research has revealed, mastic can quickly heal gastric and even some duodenal ulcers.6-8 Endoscopic studies have shown that, with mastic therapy, lesions heal within weeks, actually generating healthy regrowth over the formerly damaged tissue. These impressive results mirror the success of conventional triple drug therapy (which utilizes anti-inflammatory, antisecretory, and antibiotic agents), but mastic accomplishes its magic without the side effects and drug resistance that accompany each of the triple therapy drugs.

Deadlier Than the Disease

Paganini sought relief from his complaints of headache, exhaustion, and digestive distress (all noted symptoms of ulcers and H. pylori infection) in a common - but lethal - "panacea" of his day: mercury, which was used for a wide variety of disorders, including syphilis, various manifestations of tuberculosis, and diffuse gastric troubles.9 Tragically, this "cure" proffered by Paganini's physicians may have been deadlier than his disease.

Unfortunately, iatrogenic (physician-caused) problems of this type are not uncommon even today. Toxic side effects are all too prevalent with prescription drugs, and many patients forego or stop treatment due to their crippling consequences.

Drug-Resistance Trend

Antibiotic agents are also known to produce drug resistance in the bacteria they attack. In a study conducted in a Madrid hospital in 1998, researchers found that H. pylori is growing more resistant to prescription drugs employed to treat it - in particular, widely used antibiotics such as clarithromycin, azithromycin, clindamycin, and ciprofloxacin.10 In this disturbing study, 106 H. pylori strains were collected from dyspeptic patients who had not been treated for their infection. When researchers determined the minimum amounts of antibiotics that were effective against these strains, they also discovered, across the board, a troubling trend of primary resistance: on average, for each antibiotic tested, at least one strain out of ten was resistant, rendering the drug ineffective.

In marked contrast, although mastic-resistant strains of H. pylori might develop in the future, none have been identified in any study carried out to date. Moreover, mastic has a long history of use without any evidence of bacterial resistance.

Mastic As an Alternative

Clearly, the myriad health risks of H. pylori infection must be alleviated. Mastic should be a safe, natural alternative to conventional triple drug therapies that carry the threatening baggage of side effects and drug resistance.


Mastic accomplishes its magic
without the side effects and drug
resistancethat accompany each of
the triple therapy drugs.

With mastic, H. pylori sufferers can help restore proper gastrointestinal function confidently, without the risk of toxic side effects and drug resistance.

Music, Not Misery

When our stomachs aren't content, they let us know it, producing a cacophony of disgruntled sounds. As both anecdotal reports and the scientific literature confirm, mastic can help to create the gastrointestinal harmony sought by the many tormented victims of dyspepsia and more severe, ulcerative gastrointestinal disease. Though it's too late for Paganini, mastic's benefits can ease the gastrointestinal suffering of modern multitudes, replacing misery with music.

References

  1. Hartwell JL. Plants used against cancer. Lloydia 1967;30/4:379-436.
  2. Huwez FU, Thirlwell D, Cockayne A, Ala'Aldeen DA. Mastic gum kills Helicobacter pylori. NEJM 1998 Dec 24;339(26):1946.
  3. Jones RG, Trowbridge DB, Go MF. Helicobacter pylori infection in peptic ulcer disease and gastric malignancy. Front Biosci 2001 Dec 1;6:E213-26. Review.
  4. Aygenc E, Selcuk A, Celikkanat S, Ozbek C, Ozdem C. The role of Helicobacter pylori infection in the cause of squamous cell carcinoma oft he larynx. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2001 Nov;125(5):520-1.
  5. Marone P, Bono L, Leone E, Bona S, Carretto E, Perversi L. Bactericidal activity of Pistacia lentiscus mastic gum against Helicobacter pylori. J Chemother 2001 Dec;13(6):611-4.
  6. Huwez FU, Al-Habbal MJ. Mastic in treatment of benign gastric ulcers. Gastroenterol Jpn 1986 Jun;21(3):273-4.
  7. Al-Said MS, Ageel AM, Parmar NS, Tariq M. Evaluation of mastic, a crude drug obtained from Pistacia lentiscus for gastric and duodenal anti-ulcer activity. J Ethnopharmacol 1986;15:271-8.
  8. Al-Habbal MJ, Al-Habbal Z, Huwez FU. A double-blind controlled clinical trial of mastic and placebo in the treatment of duodenal ulcer. J Clin Exp Pharm Physiol 1984;11:541-4.
  9. Lindstedt E, Dahlquist E. The hospital in Lund during the 1850's. Sydsven Medicinhist Sallsk Arsskr 1993;30:57-95.
  10. Toro C, Garcia-Samaniego J, Carbo J, Iniguez A, Alarcon T, Lopez-Brea M, Baquero M. Prevalence of primary Helicobacter pylori resistance to eight antimicrobial agents in a hospital in Madrid. Rev Esp Quimioter 2001 Jun;14(2):172-6.

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