Chewing Gum: Friend or Foe?

Chewing gum is a habit that came about as early as 9,000 years ago by northern Europeans. Chewing birch bark tar was thought to have medicinal purposes such as relieving toothaches. In the late 1840’s the first commercial gum was developed from spruce tree resin and cornstarch. As time went on, gum went through various ingredient transformations to get to where it is today. With it’s long lasting flavor and endlessly chewy nature, it’s become a staple in many people’s purses, cars, and desk drawers.

Gum is used for many purposes, from warding off hunger, covering up bad breath, helping pop our eardrums when changing altitude quickly, and simply for boredom or a sweet treat. So is it inherently good or bad? Science says, it depends, so let’s take a look into both the pros and the cons of chewing gum.

In studies conducted in daily work environments, gum chewing increased alertness in the absence of cognitive performance tasks. Studies have also shown that chewing gum during the workday may also decrease some kinds of stress. Finally, as mentioned previously, gum can be used in small bursts to help correct things like bad breath and attenuating air pressure.

In the same studies listed above, gum also increased anxiety rates which is correlated to an increase in depression. Chewing gum also causes a host of physiological effects. The act of chewing signals to the body that food is coming, priming digestive pathways. Stimulating these pathways without using them can cause them to be less effective when we actually consume foods, and leading to digestive dysfunction due to lack of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid. There are also some things we should take into consideration when consuming gum regularly, and those are: the ingredients.

Gum manufacturers use nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, various forms of sugar and other sweeteners that can pose some serious health risks. Titanium dioxide is a metal compound that can cause inflammation, weakened gut barrier, slowed metabolism and block nutrient absorption. Sugar, as we know, is addictive, and those studies that found increased alertness could actually be linked to the sugar content in gum! Finally, sugar-free gums often contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener known to cause everything from birth defects to diabetes, cancer and mood disorders if consumed frequently. If our ultimate goal is to ward off the nursing home, these are some good things to note when you go to reach for that next piece of gum. Moderation is key in many aspects of life, and gum chewing should be one of them!

Sources:
Allen, Andrew P, and Andrew P Smith. “Chewing Gum: Cognitive Performance, Mood, Well-Being, and Associated Physiology.” BioMed Research International, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4449949/.

Zerbe, Leah. “Chewing Gum Ingredient Linked to Gut Destruction, Slower Metabolism & Inflammation.” Dr. Axe, 8 Mar. 2017, draxe.com/chewing-gum-bad/.

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