Reasons to Quit Chewing Gum
The minty sweet flavor of chewing gum is a low calorie way to replace desserts, combat cravings, or deal with stress. These days “healthy” chewing gums are even available in health food stores, either sugar-free or with some beneficial ingredients. Of course, simply because something is calorie-free or sugar-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
As with just about everything, there are pros and cons to chewing gum. (Sorry to disappoint if you were hoping for a simple, straightforward answer!) As with most questions regarding health, it’s at least possible to take a look at the research and make an informed (sane) decision.
Let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks, shall we?
The Proven Benefits of Chewing Gum
Chewing gum has a number of benefits in its favor! Here are a few.
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.