People have been chewing gum in various forms for thousands of years.
The first gums were made from the sap of trees, such as spruce or Manilkara chicle.
However, most modern chewing gums are made from synthetic rubbers.
This article explores the health benefits and potential risks of chewing gum.
- What it is
- Safety of the ingredients
- It can reduce stress and boost memory
- Weight loss
- Teeth and bad breath
- Side effects
What is chewing gum?
Chewing gum is a soft, rubbery substance designed to be chewed but not swallowed.
Recipes can vary among brands, but all chewing gums have the following basic ingredients:
- Gum. This non-digestible, rubbery base gives gum its chewy quality.
- Resin: This is usually added to strengthen and hold gum together.
- Fillers. Fillers, such as calcium carbonate or talc, give gum texture.
- Preservatives. These are added to extend shelf life. The most popular choice is an organic compound called butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT).
- Softeners. These are used to retain moisture and prevent the gum from hardening. They can include waxes like paraffin or vegetable oils.
- Sweeteners. Cane sugar, beet sugar, and corn syrup are popular sweeteners. Sugar-free gums use sugar alcohols such as xylitol or artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.
- Flavorings. Natural or synthetic flavorings are added to give gum the desired taste.
Most chewing gum manufacturers keep their exact recipes a secret. They often refer to their combination of gum, resin, filler, softeners, and antioxidants as their “gum base.”
All ingredients used in chewing gum processing have to be “food grade” and classified as fit for human consumption.
Summary: Chewing gum is a candy designed to be chewed but not swallowed. It’s made by mixing a gum base with sweeteners and flavorings.
Are the ingredients in chewing gum safe?
In general, chewing gum is considered safe.
However, some types of chewing gum contain small amounts of controversial ingredients.
Even in these cases, the amounts are generally much lower than those considered to cause harm.
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
BHT is an antioxidant added to many processed foods as a preservative. It stops food from going bad by preventing fats from becoming rancid.
Its use is controversial, as some animal studies suggest high doses can cause cancer. However, the results are mixed; other studies haven’t found this effect.
There are few human studies, so BHT’s effects on people are relatively unknown.
However, a Dutch study from 2000 assessed the connection between BHT and stomach cancer and found that men and women who consumed BHT in usual amounts had no increased risk.
The FDA and the EFSA have deemed BHT generally safe in low doses of around 0.11 mg per pound of body weight (0.25 mg per kg).
It appears that most people consume far less than this recommended level. One study that analyzed urine samples from multiple countries estimated that the average daily intake of BHT in adults was only 0.21–31.3 micrograms per kg of body weight.
Titanium dioxide is a common food additive used to whiten products and give them a smooth texture.
Some older animal studies have linked very high doses of titanium dioxide with the nervous system and organ damage in rats.
Inflammation, oxidative stress, and cancer have also been observed in studies that treated rats with titanium dioxide.
Research has yet to determine how much titanium dioxide might harm humans.
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The amount and type of titanium dioxide people are exposed to in food is generally considered safe. Nevertheless, more research is needed to determine the safe consumption limit.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener commonly found in sugar-free foods.
It’s highly controversial and has been claimed to cause various conditions, from headaches to obesity to cancer.
Animal studies have suggested that aspartame is a chemical carcinogen in rodents and that prenatal exposure to aspartame increases cancer risk in rodent offspring.
However, the possible connection between aspartame and obesity needs further study.
According to the FDA, consuming aspartame within the daily intake recommendations isn’t harmful.
However, people with a rare hereditary condition known as phenylketonuria should limit their consumption of phenylalanine, a component of aspartame.
Summary: Chewing gum hasn’t been linked to any serious health effects, but ingredients added to some types of chewing gum are controversial.
Chewing gum can reduce stress and boost memory
Studies have found that chewing gum while performing tasks can improve brain function, including alertness, memory, understanding, and decision-making.
One randomized controlled trial found that students who chewed gum over a period of 7 or 19 days had reduced scores for depression, anxiety, and stress compared to those who did not. Those who chewed gum also achieved greater academic success.
Interestingly, some studies have found that chewing gum during tasks may be a bit of a distraction at the start but could help you focus for longer periods.
Other studies have found benefits during a task’s first 15–20 minutes.
Experts don’t fully understand how chewing gum improves memory. One theory is that this improvement is due to increased blood flow to the brain caused by chewing gum.
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Studies have also found that chewing gum may reduce stress and increase feelings of alertness.
In a small 2012 study on university students, chewing gum for two weeks decreased participants’ feelings of stress, particularly in relation to academic workload.
This could be due to chewing, which has been linked to reduced levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.
The benefits of chewing gum on memory have been shown to last only while you’re chewing the gum. However, habitual gum chewers may benefit from feeling more alert and less stressed throughout the day.
Summary: Chewing gum could help improve your memory. It has also been linked to reduced feelings of stress.
Chewing gum could help you lose weight
Chewing gum could be a helpful tool for those trying to lose weight.
This is because it’s both sweet and low in calories, giving you a sweet taste without negatively affecting your diet.
Some research also suggests that chewing gum could reduce your appetite, which could prevent you from overeating.
One small study found that chewing gum between meals decreased feelings of hunger and reduced the intake of high-carb snacks in the afternoon.
The results of another small study suggest that chewing gum while walking could help burn more calories.
However, the overall results are mixed. Some studies have reported that chewing gum does not affect appetite or energy intake over the course of a day.
One study even found that people who chewed gum were less likely to snack on fruit. However, this may be because the participants were chewing minty gum before eating, which made the fruit taste bad.
Interestingly, there is also some evidence that chewing gum may increase your metabolic rate.
However, more research is needed to determine whether chewing gum leads to a difference in weight over the long term.
Summary: Chewing gum could help you cut calories and lose weight. It may also help reduce feelings of hunger and help you eat less, although the results are inconclusive.
Chewing gum could help protect your teeth and reduce bad breath
Chewing sugar-free gum could help protect your teeth from cavities.
It’s better for your teeth than regular, sugar-sweetened gum. This is because sugar feeds the “bad” bacteria in your mouth, which can damage your teeth.
However, some sugar-free gums are better than others regarding your dental health.
Studies have found that chewing gums sweetened with the sugar alcohol xylitol are more effective than other sugar-free gums at preventing tooth decay.
This is because xylitol prevents the growth of the bacteria that cause tooth decay and bad breath.
One study found that chewing xylitol-sweetened gum reduced the amount of bad bacteria in the mouth by up to 75%.
Furthermore, chewing gum after a meal increases saliva flow. This helps wash away harmful sugars and food debris, which feed bacteria in your mouth.
Summary: Chewing sugar-free gum after a meal could help keep your teeth healthy and prevent bad breath.
Are there any side effects of chewing gum?
While chewing gum has some potential benefits, chewing too much gum could cause unwanted side effects.
Sugar-free gums contain laxatives and FODMAPs
The sugar alcohols used to sweeten sugar-free gum have a laxative effect when consumed in large amounts.
This means chewing lots of sugar-free gum could cause digestive distress and diarrhea.
Additionally, all sugar alcohols are FODMAPs, which can cause digestive problems for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Sugar-sweetened gum is bad for your dental and metabolic health
Chewing gum sweetened with sugar is bad for your teeth.
This is because sugar is digested by the bad bacteria in your mouth, causing an increase in the amount of plaque on your teeth and tooth decay over time.
Too much sugar is also associated with several health conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes.
Chewing gum too often could cause problems with your jaw
Constant chewing could lead to a jaw problem called temporomandibular disorder (TMD), which causes pain when you chew.
Although this condition is rare, some studies have found a link between excessive chewing and TMD.
Chewing gum has been linked to headaches
One research review suggests regularly chewing gum may trigger headaches in people prone to migraine episodes and tension-type headaches.
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More research is needed, but the researchers suggested that people who experience migraine might want to limit their gum chewing.
Summary: Chewing too much gum could cause problems such as jaw pain, headaches, diarrhea, and tooth decay. Chewing sugar-free gum can cause digestive symptoms in people with IBS.
Which chewing gum should you choose?
If you like chewing gum, choosing sugar-free gum made with xylitol is best.
The main exception to this rule is for people with IBS. Sugar-free gum contains FODMAPs, which can cause digestive problems in people with IBS.
Those who can’t tolerate FODMAPs should choose a gum sweetened with a low-calorie sweetener such as stevia.
Make sure to read the ingredient list on your gum to confirm that it contains no ingredients you are intolerant to. Check-in with a dentist or dietitian for help deciding which type of gum is best for you.
The ingredients in chewing gum have been established as safe for humans to consume. The act of chewing may have surprising benefits for mental and physical health!
However, some people may find that they experience adverse side effects, such as jaw pain or headaches, from chewing gum. If you know this habit causes you problems, it’s best to limit your chewing. Otherwise, a stick or two of gum between meals isn’t a bad idea.