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Karaya Gum

Medically reviewed on February 22, 2018

Scientific Name(s): Sterculia urens Roxb. Family: Sterculiaceae. The gum also may be obtained from S. villosa , S. tragacantha , or other species of Sterculia 1

Common Name(s): Karaya , sterculia , Indian tragacanth , Bassora tragacanth , kadaya , mucara , kadira , katila , kullo 2 , 3 , 4 , 5


Karaya gum is used in cosmetics and food, and in pharmaceuticals as a laxative and adhesive.


No specific dosage of karaya gum preparations has been determined by clinical studies.


Contraindications have not been identified.


Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

No significant adverse reactions have been reported despite widespread use.


Karaya gum is generally recognized as safe.


The majority of commercial karaya gum is obtained from Sterculia urens , which is a soft-wooded tree that grows to approximately 10 meters. It is native to India and Pakistan, where it is found on the dry, rocky hills and plateaus; it grows there almost exclusively, where it is cultivated for karaya production. 6 All parts of the tree exude a soft gum when injured. Karaya gum is produced by charring or scarring the tree trunk and removing a piece of bark or by drilling holes into the trunk. The gum seeps from the scars and is collected, washed, and dried. The gum is then graded. A mature tree may yield 1 to 5 kg of gum per season. 6 The flowers bloom from February to March, and the tree bears a star-shaped fruit. 3


Karaya gum has been used commercially for about 100 years. Its use became widespread during the early 20th century, when it was used as an adulterant or alternative for tragacanth gum. 6 However, experience indicated that karaya possessed certain physiochemical properties that made it more useful than tragacanth; furthermore, karaya gum was less expensive. Traditionally, India is the largest producer and exporter of karaya gum. 6 Increasing amounts are exported by African countries. Currently the gum is used in a variety of products, including cosmetics, hair sprays, and lotions, to provide bulk. 7 The bark is astringent. 3


Karaya gum is a complex, partially acetylated polysaccharide obtained as a calcium and magnesium salt. The polysaccharide component of karaya has a high molecular weight and is composed of galacturonic acid, beta-D-galactose, glucuronic acid, L-rhamnose, and other residues. 1 , 2 , 3

The quality of karaya gum depends on the thoroughness of impurity removal. Food-grade gum is usually a white to pinkish gray powder with a slight vinegar odor. 2 Pharmaceutical grades of karaya may be almost clear or translucent. 3

Karaya gum is the least soluble of the commercial plant exudates, but it absorbs water rapidly and swells to form viscous colloidal solutions even at low concentrations (1%). 2 The swelling behavior of karaya gum is dependent upon the presence of acetyl groups in its structure. Deacetylation through alkali treatment results in a water soluble gum. When used in higher concentrations in water (up to 4%), karaya forms gels or pastes. Unlike other gums, karaya swells in 60% alcohol, but remains insoluble in other organic solvents. Karaya may absorb up to 100 times its weight in water. 2

Because the gum is partially acetylated, it may release acetic acid during storage. 2

Uses and Pharmacology

Karaya gum is not digested or absorbed systemically. It is essentially inert and is not associated with any pharmacologic activity. Karaya gum has a number of applications in the food industry.

Pharmaceutical uses

Medicinally, karaya gum is an effective bulk laxative as gum particles absorb water and swell to 60 to 100 times their original volume. 6 , 8 The mechanism of action is an increase in the volume of the gut contents. Karaya gum should be taken with plenty of fluid and it may take a few days for effects to be noticeable. It also has been used as an adhesive for dental fixtures and ostomy equipment, and as a base for salicylic acid patches. 4 , 9 Some preliminary studies suggest that gums may normalize blood sugar and plasma lipid levels, 10 but this has not been thoroughly investigated.

The demulcent properties of the gum make it useful as an ingredient in lozenges to relieve sore throat. 3 A protective coating of karaya gum applied to dentures has been shown to reduce bacterial adhesion by 98%. 11

Clinical trial data are lacking in support of the pharmaceutical applications of karaya gum.

The use of karaya gum as a carrier for drugs with differing solubilities in aqueous medium has been investigated. 12 , 13


No specific dosage of gum karaya preparations has been determined by clinical studies.


Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. However, there are no known harmful effects when used during pregnancy or lactation.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Widespread experience with the use of karaya gum throughout the United States and Europe has not been associated with any clinically important adverse experiences. 14 When used as a laxative, diarrhea may occur with excessive doses.


Karaya gum is generally recognized as safe for internal consumption.


1. Tyler VE. Pharmacognosy . Philadelphia, PA: Lea & Febiger; 1981.
2. Leung AY. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used In Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics . New York, NY: J. Wiley and Sons; 1980.
3. Morton JF. Major Medicinal Plants . Springfield, IL: CC Thomas; 1977.
4. Evans WC. Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy . 13th ed. London, England: Bailliere Tindall; 1989.
5. Osol A, Farrar GE Jr, eds. The Dispensatory of the United States of America . 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott Co.; 1955.
6. Verbeken D, Dierckx S, Dewettinck K. Exudate gums: occurrence, production, and applications. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol . 2003;63:10-21.
7. Der Marderosian AH, Liberti LE. Natural Product Medicine . Philadelphia, PA: G.F. Stickley Co.; 1988.
8. Meier P, Seiler WO, Stahelin HB. Bulk-forming agents as laxatives in geriatric patients [in German]. Schweiz Med Wochenschr . 1990;120:314-317.
9. Bart BJ, Biglow J, Vance JC, Neveaux JL. Salicylic acid in karaya gum patch as a treatment for verruca vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol . 1989;20:74-76.
10. Behall KM. Effect of soluble fibers on plasma lipids, glucose tolerance and mineral balance. Adv Exp Med Biol . 1990;270:7-16.
11. Wilson M, Harvey W. Prevention of bacterial adhesion to denture acrylic. J Dent . 1989;17:166-170.
12. Munday DL, Cox PJ. Compressed xanthan and karaya gum matrices: hydration, erosion and drug release mechanisms. Int J Pharm . 2000;203:179-192.
13. Murali Mohan Babu GV, Prasad ChD, Ramana Murthy KV. Evaluation of modified gum karaya as carrier for the dissolution enhancement of poorly water-soluble drug nimodipine. Int J Pharm . 2002;234:1-17.
14. Anderson DM. Evidence for the safety of gum karaya ( Sterculia spp.) as a food additive. Food Addit Contam . 1989;6:189-199.

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