Are you still chewing gum? What about your kids? Mine absolutely love it. I haven’t chewed traditional gum in several years, but I still remember my faves! Juicy Fruit and Big Red were my go-to, way back when! And who doesn’t love Fruit Stripes?? These days, I only allow natural gum, but even then, you gotta check the ingredients.
Let’s take a closer look at the pro’s and con’s shall we!
BENEFIT'S OF CHEWING GUM
There’s no doubt chewing gum can take the edge off the nerves, and this is confirmed in clinical studies. In a small study of 50 young adult volunteers, those who chewed gum twice a day for two weeks rated their anxiety as significantly lower than those who did not. Another study found that not only does chewing gum reduce anxiety but it also reduces cortisol levels.
Sadly, the anxiety-reducing benefits don’t last, as the study showed no significant difference in anxiety after 4 weeks. At best, data on the effects of chewing gum on stress levels appear to be mixed.
Increases Serotonin in the Brain
Because chewing gum reduces stress, it has also been shown that it can increase serotonin, the “happy” neurotransmitter. Increased serotonin in turn soothes the nerves that conduct pain. So, yes, chewing gum could actually work as a pain reducer!
Increases Cognitive Performance
The same studies that found chewing gum reduces anxiety also found gum chewers experience less mental fatigue. Scientists are still investigating the connection. It might be because chewing increases oxygenated blood in the brain, or because chewing signals the release of more insulin (because it anticipates food), which in turn allows the brain to absorb more glucose.
Activates the Vagus Nerve
Chewing in general can stimulate the vagus nerve. Poor vagus nerve activation is one of the causes of all modern diseases.
The vagus nerve wanders between the brain and several important organs, such as the heart and the digestive system. It controls gut movement and secretion of digestive juice, among other things. It is believed to be one of the ways that gut health and gut bacteria affect the brain. This might explain the effects of gum chewing on mood.
By activating the vagus nerve, gum chewing can also increase gut movement and secretion of digestive enzymes. One study suggested that chewing gum could even help new mothers restore bowel functions after C-sections.
Improves Dental Health
Studies suggest that sugar-free gum use may reduce the risks of dental decay. The evidence is still unclear for other dental health benefits (and the prolonged exposure to acidic ingredients in some gums may actually increase the risks).
It may be that chewing gum simply stimulates extra saliva production and helps the mouth clean itself. Gum containing erythritol or xylitol may also kill bad oral bacteria and increase the good ones.
Contains (Potentially) Toxic Ingredients
There are many questionable ingredients in chewing gums (including the organic ones you find in health food stores!). Here are a few common ones:
Gum base, a mix of 46 different chemicals. They could be natural plant resin, beeswax or petroleum-based chemicals, and the FDA allows them to be called “gum base”
Artificial antioxidants such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). BHT has been linked to asthma, behavioral issues and cancer risks.
Artificial food colors including caramel color
Titanium dioxide for vibrant white color
Fillers such as talc and cornstarch- think GMO’s
And the obvious- aspartame
“Tricks” the Digestive System
Chewing gets the digestive system started by activating the vagus nerve. As the gut secretes enzymes, it can cause problems like ulcers, IBS and indigestion.
Causes Jaw Problems
Our jaws aren’t made to chew continuously for hours. This can lead to TMJ, tension headaches, tight jaw muscles and imbalances.
80 – 90% of chewing gum on the market is made of plastic and not biodegradable, which can present major problems for the environment.
Have you ever noticed that even insects won’t eat gum- it’s that artificial!
What benefits or downsides have you experienced? Is it time to ditch the gum?
I would love to hear from you!
Scholey, A., Haskell, C., Robertson, B., Kennedy, D., Milne, A., & Wetherell, M. (2009). Chewing gum alleviates negative mood and reduces cortisol during acute laboratory psychological stress. Physiology & Behavior, 97(3-4), 304-312.
Swoboda, C., & Temple, J. L. (2013). Acute and chronic effects of gum chewing on food reinforcement and energy intake. Eating Behaviors, 14(2), 149-156.
Toors, F. A. (1992). Chewing gum and dental health. literature review. [Chewing-gum et sante dentaire. Revue de litterature] Revue Belge De Medecine Dentaire, 47(3), 67-92.
Dodds, M. W. (2012). The oral health benefits of chewing gum. Journal of the Irish Dental Association, 58(5), 253-261.
Johnson, A. J., Jenks, R., Miles, C., Albert, M., & Cox, M. (2011). Chewing gum moderates multi-task induced shifts in stress, mood, and alertness. A re-examination. Appetite, 56(2), 408-411.
Mohri, Y., Fumoto, M., Sato-Suzuki, I., Umino, M., & Arita, H. (2005). Prolonged rhythmic gum chewing suppresses nociceptive response via serotonergic descending inhibitory pathway in humans. Pain, 118(1-2), 35-42.
National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Washington (DC). (1989). Diet and health: Implications for reducing chronic disease risk. 22