What is Tragacanth Gum?
Tragacanth Gum is a natural gum that is produced by several different species of the Astragalus genus. Astragalus plants often go by the names goat’s thorn or locoweed. The species used to make tragacanth gum include A. adscendens, A. gummifer, A. brachycalyx, and A. tragacantha. These are all legume bearing shrubs from the Middle East. Tragacanth gum is made from the dried sap of these plants. You can find this substance also under the name Gond Katira, Kutira Gummi, Katheera, Katila, Ela-imbue-Kini Hi Riya, Shiraz gum, Shiraz, gum elect, and/or gum dragon. The most common name—tragacanth—has Greek origins. In Greek, tragos means goat and akantha means thorn.
Iran is the largest producer of tragacanth gum in the world. The gum is extracted from the Astragalus plant’s roots through tapping, just as you do to produce maple syrup. The syrup that is produced from the plant dries quickly to become tragacanth gum. It is odorless, tasteless, and water soluble. It can be made into a powder, gel, or paste.
In addition to the medicinal uses described below, tragacanth gum has a variety of uses. In fact, you can find it as an emulsifier, thickener, stabilizer, and texturizer. It is traditionally used to bind pastel paint and is used in sugar craft paste to create flowers and other sugar decorations. It is also used to secure the flag leaf of the cigar to its body. In food products, tragacanth gum can be found in drinks, sauces, salad dressings, ice cream, the list goes on. Finally, people in Saudi Arabia use a mixture of Tragacanth, water, and dried and ground Ziziphus spina-christi (Christ’s thorn jujube) as a shampoo.
In essence, because of its tasteless and odorless nature, you will find tragacanth gum in a wide variety of seemingly unrelated products. The one thing that connects them all is tragacanth’s use as an emulsifier and/or thickening agent. You may find tragacanth to be similar to another gum called Guggul.
Tragacanth Gum Benefits, and Uses
There has been a lot of research done on tragacanth gum, but most of it is in relation to its use as a food additive. Very little research has bene don on the actual medicinal benefits of the substance. So, most of the claims discussed below are only proven from anecdotal evidence. We will mention scientific studies and clinical trials when they are applicable.
As mentioned in our overview of tragacanth gum, in some Middle Eastern countries, it is used as a shampoo. Because of its gelling qualities, it makes a good addition to any lathering shampoo or conditioner. There are no scientific studies that specifically prove that tragacanth gum is good for a person’s hair. Instead, it is a well-known emulsifier in science.
However, various traditional medicines claim that tragacanth gum helps to strengthen the hair and stop hair loss. Some even claim that the hydrated tragacanth gum will do the job of shampoo and only recommend putting in a couple of drops of essential oil for scent. Anecdotally the gel is said to give hair more thickness and volume even after just one wash.
One of the largest claims by believers in tragacanth gum is that drinking it regularly will increase a woman’s breast size. It is also said that you have to wait quite a long time to experience this result. There have been no scientific studies that investigate this claim about the substance. How tragacanth gum physiologically changes a woman’s breast size is not explained at all. So, the only way to discover if this effect is true or not is to try it for yourself.
Multiple studies have found tragacanth gum to be an effective wound treatment. An especially interesting paper published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules found that tragacanth gum in addition to aloe vera extract had good wound healing activity. In particular, the product created a “considerable migration rate of fibroblast cells” that aid the healing of the skin.
Another study from 2017 found that tragacanth gum in addition to poly(ε-caprolactone) (PCL) and poly (vinyl alcohol) (PVA) could be able to help produce skin substitutes. In 2016, Tragacanth gum in addition to PVA and sodium alginate (SA) were also found to be suitable wound dressing application when made into hydrogels.
Another claim often made about tragacanth gum that is unsupported in medical literature is that it can cure sexual issues in men. Often these issues are called “weaknesses” in men. Anecdotal stories and traditional medicine history claim that tragacanth gum can cure conditions like erectile dysfunction, low semen count, and premature ejaculation. There have been no scientific studies so far that test for these results.
Because tragacanth gum is useful as a wound healing substance, it is often used to cure acne and or skin conditions. Some even include recipes for using tragacanth gum to create “beautiful skin.” These recipes typically involve rehydrating the substance and adding it to egg whites, milk or milk powder, and other ingredients. Tragacanth gum is a perfect additive and becomes a thick paste. So, there is some reason to suggest that these anecdotes may be correct. However, no medical studies have been conducted to prove the effectiveness of tragacanth gum as a treatment for acne.
A 2016 study published in the journal Biologicals found a use for tragacanth gum in the form of a hydrogel could have some orthopedic applications. This study compared a hydrogel using tragacanth gum to a collagen hydrogel and tissue culture plate to produce osteoinductivity on stem cells. The researchers found that the hydrogel using tragacanth gum accelerated and supported the stem cells the best, which suggests an interesting avenue for tragacanth gum applications in the future. Obviously more studies will be needed before tragacanth gum could be used to strengthen and repair human bones.
Another 2016 found that tragacanth gum helped heal wounds in diabetic rats. While this study would seem to fit the wound healing section better, the fact that the rats were diabetic is important. This indicates, that although tragacanth gum may not be able to cure diabetes in the way that its followers anecdotally claim, it can still be used to help mitigate symptoms of the disease.
Believers in tragacanth gum—especially those who practice Ayurveda—claim that it can aid weight loss efforts by increasing the metabolic rate of the body. They also state that it also helps your body to rid itself of waste, which only aids weight loss. Again, there have been no scientific studies that examine tragacanth gum’s effectiveness as a weight loss tool or its metabolic effects. All of the evidence for this claim is anecdotal.
You will occasionally find studies that examine guar gum’s effectiveness for treating constipation. Tragacanth gum is similar to guar gum, so it may be similarly helpful for getting your bowels moving again. However, no studies examine tragacanth gum specifically for this purpose. Blogs and other websites claim that tragacanth gum has purgative—laxative—properties that help treat constipation. But, again, no studies are available that prove these claims for tragacanth gum specifically.
Many people also claim that tragacanth gum has anti-aging properties that can reduce the appearance of wrinkles. There are studies to prove that tragacanth gum has a high level of antioxidants and heals wounds well. But, neither of these studies looked at whether or not the substance actually reduced the appearance of wrinkles. There is some anecdotal evidence for this conclusion as claimed on many pro-tragacanth gum websites and blogs. But, other than the antioxidants, there is no concrete evidence for this conclusion.
An older study from 1984 found that tragacanth gum does not alter the functioning of the mitochondria and liver microsomes of rats. This study contradicts a 1978 experiment that claimed tragacanth gum was bad for the liver and mitochondria. What these two studies do not do is claim that tragacanth gum improves liver function in any way. Essentially, the 1984 article only argues that it is safe for consumption. Any claims by alternative health practitioners that tragacanth gum will improve the health of your liver are only anecdotal.
In addition to studies that examine tragacanth gum’s use as an additive, a large portion of experiments examine the substance’s use as a drug delivery system. Because tragacanth gum is so thick, it can bind with many different types of medicines. This feature is especially important in instances where a drug needs to be released slowly into the body—however, it can also cause a problem with medicines that you don’t want released slowly.
In general, the many studies on this topic in the last few years have shown tragacanth gum to be an extremely effective drug delivery method.
Tragacanth Gum Dosage
There is no clinical or scientific research that specifies a dosage for tragacanth gum. In the United States the gum has a GRAS (general recognized as safe) status with the Food and Drug Administration as a food additive—not a medication.
Traditionally, when tragacanth gum is used as an oral medication you will be instructed to “fluff” the substance overnight in water. This rehydrates the dry gum. Most recipe call for hydrating 2 pieces of dried tragacanth gum in a glass of water. The next day you need to rinse it multiple times, then you can use it in the drink of your choice. Popular tragacanth gum drinks include water and lemon, kheer, and laddoos. However, you could always put it in juice or any other drink that you prefer. It is tasteless, so you will not notice tragacanth gum’s presence in your drink of choice.
If you are using a product—medicinal or not—with tragacanth gum in it, you should always follow the instructions on the bottle/box. These will inform you as to how to get the most out of the product you are using.
Tragacanth Gum Side Effects, Safety, Dangers and Warnings
Tragacanth gum does not have many reported side effects. In fact, it is considered safe when taken orally and used topically on the skin. Because tragacanth gum becomes a thick gel, it can block the intestines. So, you should always make sure to drink plenty of water when you are ingesting the gum. Also, it may cause breathing problems in people who have a quillaia bark (Soapbark) allergy.
Although tragacanth gum is considered relatively safe for most people, pregnant or nursing mothers should take care and consult a physician before using the substance. There have not been enough studies to conclusively prove that tragacanth gum is safe for these populations. However, a 1980 study found that tragacanth is extremely vulnerable to bacterial contamination. This was shown to cause fetus death in pregnant mice. So, pregnant mothers should be especially careful when use tragacanth gum. It is always better to be safe than sorry when trying a new medication, especially one with little scientific backing like tragacanth gum.
Finally, there are no specific drug interactions with tragacanth gum. However, the thick nature of the gel can interfere with medications and inhibit the amount of them that your body absorbs. This can potentially make your medication less effective. As a preventative measure, you should take tragacanth at least one hour after you take your medications.