Between 4 and 7 April 2014, 27 students from our school visited the neighboring island of Chios. Chios is famous for its exports of mastic. It is often referred as “The mastic island”.
Mastic is a resin obtained from the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus). In Greece, it is known as the “tears of Chios” being traditionally produced on that Greek island, and, like other natural resins, is produced in “tears” or droplets. Originally a liquid, mastic is sun-dried into drops of hard brittle translucent resin. When chewed, the resin softens and becomes a bright white and opaque gum. The flavor is bitter at first, but after some chewing, it releases a refreshing, slightly pine or cedar-like flavor.
Mastic has been used as a medicine since antiquity and is still used in traditional folk medicine of the Middle East. In ancient Greece, it was given as a remedy for snakebite, and, in India and Persia, it was used to fill dental cavities. The first-century Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides mentions the healing properties of mastic in his book De Materia Medica. Hippocrates wrote that the mastic is good for prevention of digestive problems and colds, and Galenus suggested that mastic was useful for bronchitis and for improving the condition of the blood. In medieval times, mastic was highly valued by sultans’ harems as a breath freshener and a tooth whitener.
Since ancient times, mastic has been used in Mediterranean cultures as an antiseptic, a food antioxidant, a chewing gum and breath sweetener, a flavoring additive in a variety of traditional foods and drinks, and a remedy for stomachache, indigestion, and ulcers.
The medicinal value of mastic lies mainly in its lethal action against a number of species of harmful bacteria, most notably Helicobacter pylori. This nasty little bug, which infects roughly half the people on earth, is the primary causative agent for nonerosive gastritis (a chronic inflammation of the stomach) and most gastric and duodenal ulcers, collectively known as peptic ulcers. This brings us to a recent study of cancerous human colon cells by scientists in Florida and Greece. Their objective was to see whether mastic—the real mastic—could kill these cells in laboratory experiments. Using an extract of mastic resin from the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea (where virtually all mastic comes from), the researchers incubated the cancer cells with the mastic extract at different concentrations for different lengths of time.
Mastic Gets the Job Done
They found that mastic killed the cells in a dose-dependent and time-dependent manner: the higher the mastic concentration and the longer the incubation period, the greater the killing effect. With an incubation period of 48 hours, a mastic concentration of 25 mcg/ml (micrograms per milliliter) left the cancer cells attached to the ECM; with 50 mcg/ml, the cells were about 50% detached; and with 100 mcg/ml, they were 100% detached (these numerical equivalencies were coincidental).
The Association of Mastic Producers in Chios retains a factory which we visited. The factory includes a unit for formulating & packaging mastic and a unit for manufacturing mastic gum and distilling mastic oil. Today mastic is exported to many countries. A wide variety of healthy products are produced: Pastries, cakes, jams, ice creams, chocolates, chewing gums, candies, beverages, sauces, liqueurs, spirits, wine, food supplements, hygiene products, etc.