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Chewing Gum: Good or Bad?

Blonde Blowing Large Bubble out of Chewing GumPeople have been chewing
gum in various forms for thousands of years.

Original 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 Is Chewing Gum?

Chewing gum is a soft, rubbery substance that’s designed to be
chewed but not swallowed.

Recipes can vary between brands, but all chewing gums have the
following basic ingredients:

  • Gum: The non-digestible, rubbery base used
    to give gum its chewy quality.
  • Resin: Usually added to strengthen gum and
    hold it together.
  • Fillers: Fillers, such as calcium carbonate
    or talc, are used to 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: Popular ones include cane sugar,
    beet sugar and corn syrup. Sugar-free gums use sugar alcohols
    like xylitol or artificial sweeteners like aspartame.
  • Flavorings: Added to give a desired flavor.
    They can be natural or synthetic.

Most chewing gum manufacturers keep their exact recipes a
secret. They often refer to their specific combination of gum,
resin, filler, softeners and antioxidants
as their “gum base.”

All ingredients used in the processing of chewing gum have to
be “food grade” and classified as fit for human consumption.

Bottom Line: Chewing gum is a candy that’s
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?

Piece of Chewing Gum

In general, chewing gum is considered to be safe.

However, some brands of chewing gum contain small amounts of
controversial ingredients.

Even in these cases, the amounts are generally much lower than
the amounts considered to cause harm.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)

BHT is an antioxidant that’s 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 have shown
high doses can cause cancer. Yet, the results are mixed, and
other studies haven’t found this effect (1, 2, 3).

Overall, there are very few human studies, so its effects on
people are relatively unknown.

Nevertheless, at low doses of around 0.11 mg per pound of body
weight (0.25 mg per kg), BHT is deemed generally safe by both
the FDA and EFSA (4).

Titanium Dioxide

Titanium dioxide is a common food additive
used to whiten products and give them a smooth texture.

Some animal studies have linked very high doses of titanium
dioxide with nervous system and organ damage in rats (5, 6).

However, studies have provided mixed results, and its effects
in humans are relatively unknown (7, 8).

At the moment, the amount and type of titanium dioxide people
are exposed to in food is generally considered to be safe.
Nevertheless, more research is needed to determine the safe
consumption limit (9, 10, 11).

Aspartame

Aspartame
is an artificial sweetener commonly found in sugar-free foods.

It’s highly controversial and has been claimed to cause a range
of problems from headaches to obesity to cancer.

However, there’s currently no evidence that aspartame causes
cancer or weight gain. Evidence for a connection between
aspartame and metabolic syndrome or headaches is also weak or
nonexistent (12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17).

Overall, consuming amounts of aspartame that are within the
daily intake recommendations isn’t thought to be harmful
(18).

Bottom Line: Chewing gum hasn’t been linked
to any serious health effects, but ingredients added to some
brands of chewing gum are controversial.

Chewing Gum Can Reduce Stress and Boost Memory

Redhead Blowing a Bubble with Chewing Gum

Studies have found that chewing gum while performing tasks can
improve various aspects of brain function, including alertness,
memory, understanding and decision making (19, 20, 21, 22, 23).

In one study, people who chewed gum during tests performed 24%
better in short-term memory tests and 36% better in long-term
memory tests (24).

Interestingly, some studies have found that chewing gum during
tasks could be a bit of a distraction at the start, but they
could help you focus for longer periods (25).

Other studies have only found benefits during the first 15–20
minutes of a task (26).

How chewing gum improves memory isn’t fully understood. One
theory is that this improvement is due to increased blood flow
to the brain caused by chewing gum.

Studies have also found that chewing gum could reduce stress
and increase feelings of alertness (27, 28, 29).

In university students, chewing gum for two weeks decreased
feelings of stress, particularly in relation to academic
workload (30).

This could be due to the act of chewing, which has been linked
to reduced levels of stress hormones like cortisol (31, 32, 33).

The benefits of chewing gum on memory have only been shown to
last while you’re chewing the gum. However, habitual gum
chewers may benefit from feeling more alert and less stressed
throughout the day (24, 27, 34).

Bottom Line: Chewing gum could help improve
your memory. It has also been linked to reduced feelings of
stress.

Chewing Gum Could Help You Lose Weight

Weight Scale

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 blowing your diet.

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It has also been suggested that chewing could reduce your
appetite, which could prevent you from overeating (35, 36).

One small study found that chewing gum after lunch decreased
hunger and reduced snacking later in the day by around 10%.
Another more recent study found similar results (37, 38).

However, the overall results are mixed. Some studies have
reported that chewing gum does not affect appetite nor energy
intake over the course of a day (39, 40, 41).

One study even found that people who chewed gum were less
likely to snack on healthy snacks like
fruit
. However, this may be because the participants were
chewing minty gum before eating, which made the fruit taste bad
(42).

Interestingly, there is also some evidence that chewing gum can
increase
your metabolic rate
(43).

In fact, one study found that when participants chewed gum,
they burned around 19% more calories than when they didn’t chew
gum (44).

However, more research is needed to determine if chewing gum
leads to a difference in scale weight over the long term.

Bottom Line: 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

Eight Pieces of Mint Chewing Gum

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,
damaging your teeth.

However, some sugar-free gums are better than others when it
comes to 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 (45).

This is because xylitol prevents the growth of the bacteria
that cause tooth decay and bad breath (46, 47).

In fact, one study found that chewing xylitol-sweetened gum
reduced the amount of bad bacteria in the mouth by up to 75%
(48).

Furthermore, chewing gum after a meal increases saliva flow.
This helps wash away harmful sugars and food debris, both of
which feed bacteria in your mouth (49).

Bottom Line: Chewing sugar-free gum after a
meal could help keep your teeth healthy and prevent bad
breath.

Other Health Benefits of Gum

In addition to the benefits above, chewing gum has been linked
to other benefits.

These include:

  • Prevents ear infections in children: Some
    studies have suggested that gum containing xylitol could
    prevent middle ear infections in children (50).
  • Helps you quit smoking: Nicotine gum could
    help people quit smoking (51).
  • Helps your gut recover after surgery:
    Studies have shown that chewing gum after an operation could
    speed up recovery time (52, 53, 54, 55, 56).

Bottom Line: Chewing gum may help people
quit smoking, prevent middle ear infections in children and
help your gut return to normal function after surgery.

Are There Any Side Effects of Chewing Gum?

While chewing gum has some potential benefits, chewing too much
gum could cause some unwanted side effects.

Sugar-Free Gums Contain Laxatives and FODMAPs

The sugar
alcohols
used to sweeten sugar-free gum have a laxative
effect when used in large amounts.

This means that chewing lots of sugar-free gum could cause
digestive distress and diarrhea (57).

Additionally, all sugar alcohols are FODMAPs,
which means that they can cause digestive problems for people
with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Sugar-Sweetened Gum Is Bad for Your Teeth and Metabolic Health

Chewing gum sweetened with sugar is really 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 (58).

Eating too much sugar is also associated with a
number of health problems
like obesity, insulin resistance
and diabetes (59).

Chewing Gum Too Often Could Cause Problems With Your Jaw

Woman Putting a Piece of Gum into Her Mouth

It’s been suggested that 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 (60, 61).

Chewing Gum Has Been Linked to Headaches

One recent review found a link between regularly chewing gum,
migraines and tension headaches in people prone to these
conditions (62).

More research is needed to find out if chewing gum actually
causes these headaches. However, the researchers concluded that
migraine sufferers might want to limit their gum chewing.

Bottom Line: Chewing too much gum could
cause problems like 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?

Green Leaves and a Few Pieces of Chewing Gum

If you like chewing gum, it’s best to choose a sugar-free gum
made with xylitol.

The main exception to this rule is people with IBS. This is
because sugar-free gum contains FODMAPs, which can cause
digestive problems in people with IBS.

Alternatively, 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 make sure
it doesn’t contain anything you are intolerant to.

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