Once used by ancient Egyptian and Arabic civilizations to treat a variety of medical conditions, from colds to leprosy, the acacia plant still plays a role in modern food and medicine.
Native to tropical regions of Africa and Australia, the acacia is a shrub-like tree that has sharp thorns and can grow up to 15 feet tall. Sap from the acacia tree, often called acacia gum, is used for medicinal purposes.
You can find acacia at most health food stores in powder, capsule, or gum form. It’s also an ingredient in many snack foods and candies like gum drops and marshmallows, as well as in some traditional Arabic desserts.
Historically, it was used to treat:
- skin wounds such as burns, cuts, or leprosy
- digestive issues
Some of these uses still apply today. Here are seven ways acacia can be beneficial to your health.
1. It’s a good source of fiber.
Acacia is known as a good source of dietary fiber because it contains about 90 percent soluble fiber. This type of fiber, which dissolves in water, is an important part of your diet. It helps the digestive system run smoothly and reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
2. It can help with digestive issues.
Fiber can help alleviate constipation and discomfort associated with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, fiber content may not be the only reason acacia is good for the digestive system. The sap may also be a prebiotic, which means it can help to feed the good bacteria in the intestines. One study found that yogurt with added acacia fiber was more effective in reducing IBS symptoms than regular yogurt.
3. It might have a future in diabetes management.
Some claim that acacia supplements can help control your blood sugar. While there’s little clinical evidence to support that, it’s known that dietary fiber plays an important role in regulating blood sugar in those with type 2 diabetes. Foods with added acacia may help boost your daily fiber.
4. Can it lower cholesterol?
Like other dietary fibers, acacia may have a role in lowering cholesterol. While a study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) couldn’t establish a direct link between acacia gum and cholesterol, research has shown that adding soluble fiber to your diet can lower cholesterol levels significantly.
- There are over 600 different species of acacia.
- Acacia is an excellent source of fiber, which can help with cholesterol and weight loss.
5. No more sore throat.
Acacia is a demulcent, a substance that relieves irritation in the mucus membranes of the mouth by creating a protective film. Historically, this is why it was used to heal wounds, mouth sores, and cold symptoms. Today it’s an ingredient in many cold medications such as throat lozenges and cough medicines.
6. Your dentist would approve.
Early research suggests that acacia gum may have antibacterial properties that help control harmful bacteria in the mouth that cause gum disease. One study found that chewing gum made with acacia was more helpful in reducing plaque for seven days when compared with regular gum.
7. Shed the pounds.
One of the many benefits of eating a diet rich in fiber is that it helps you stay full for longer. When you feel satisfied, you’re less likely to snack, which can lead to weight loss. Some research suggests that because of its high fiber content, acacia gum might also be helpful in treating obesity.
There’s no recommended dosage for acacia as a dietary supplement. It will largely depend on why you’re using the product. Follow the directions on the package and make sure to discuss the supplement with your doctor.
Acacia gum is also used by the food and drug industries as an emulsifying agent because it helps hold mixtures together when they normally wouldn’t blend well. If you look on the ingredient list of a soft drink, candy, or cough medicine, you might find acacia. It can also be used to extend a product’s shelf life or improve texture.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate dietary supplements. However, they have approved acacia as an additive in foods and drugs. This means it’s considered safe for manufactures to use in their products. Recently, the FDA also approved acacia as an ingredient in products such as breakfast cereals, snack bars, and baked goods. It’s also recognized as a source of dietary fiber and can be advertised as such.
While more research is needed to find out how effective acacia is for treating various health conditions, many popular snack foods and medications wouldn’t be the same without it.