Chewing Gum: Good or Bad?

Comments · 144 Views

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.

The ingredients in chewing gum are safe for people to consume, and the act of chewing may even have mental and physical health benefits. However, some people get jaw pain or headaches from chewing.

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 is chewing gum?

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

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

  • Gum. This is the nondigestible, rubbery base used to give gum its chewy quality.
  • Resin: This is 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. 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 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.

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 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 suggest that high doses can cause cancer. However, the results are mixed, and other studies haven’t found this effect (1Trusted Source2Trusted Source).

Overall, there are very 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 (3).

Both 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) (4Trusted Source).

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 (5Trusted Source).

Titanium dioxide

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 nervous system and organ damage in rats (6Trusted Source7Trusted Source).

Inflammation, oxidative stress, and cancer have also been observed in studies that have treated rats with titanium dioxide (8Trusted Source).

Research has yet to determine the amount of titanium dioxide that might be harmful in humans.

At the moment, 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 (9Trusted Source10Trusted Source11Trusted Source).

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 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 (12Trusted Source).

However, the possible connection between aspartame and obesity needs to be further studied (13Trusted Source14Trusted Source).

According to the FDA, consuming amounts of aspartame that are within the daily intake recommendations isn’t thought to be harmful (15Trusted Source).

However, people who have a rare hereditary condition known as phenylketonuria should limit their consumption of phenylalanine, which is a component of aspartame (15Trusted Source).

Color additives

Synthetic food colorings such as Red Dye 40Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 1 have been linked to health issues. However, the FDA has approved these dyes, stating that while most children consume these additives with no adverse effects, some may show sensitivity to them (16Trusted Source17).

Chewing gum often contains titanium dioxide, which adds a shiny finish to added colors, which may include the above-mentioned synthetic colors and more (17).

Titanium dioxide, Red 3 and Green 3 are banned in the European Union, but not in the US. Red 40 Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 must contain a warning in the EU stating that they may have adverse effects on activity and attention in children (1819).

Chewing gum can reduce stress and boost memory

Studies have found that chewing gum while performing tasks can improve various aspects of brain function, including alertness, memory, understanding, and decision making (21Trusted Source22Trusted Source23Trusted Source24Trusted Source25Trusted Source).

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 (26Trusted Source).

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 (27Trusted Source).

Other studies have found benefits during only the first 15–20 minutes of a task (28Trusted Source).

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.

Studies have also found that chewing gum may reduce stress and increase feelings of alertness (22Trusted Source29Trusted Source30Trusted Source).

In a small 2012 study in university students, chewing gum for 2 weeks decreased participants’ feelings of stress, particularly in relation to academic workload (31Trusted Source).

This could be due to the act of chewing, which has been linked to reduced levels of stress hormones such as cortisol (32Trusted Source33Trusted Source).

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 (22Trusted Source34Trusted Source).

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 (35Trusted Source36Trusted Source).

One small study found that chewing gum between meals decreased feelings of hunger and reduced intake of high carb snacks in the afternoon (37Trusted Source).

The results of another small study suggest that chewing gum while walking could help burn more calories (38Trusted Source).

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 (39Trusted Source40Trusted Source).

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 (41Trusted Source).

Interestingly, there is also some evidence that chewing gum may increase your metabolic rate (42Trusted Source).

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

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 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 (43Trusted Source).

This is because xylitol prevents the growth of the bacteria that cause tooth decay and bad breath (44Trusted Source45Trusted Source).

In fact, one study found that chewing xylitol-sweetened gum reduced the amount of bad bacteria in the mouth by up to 75% (46Trusted Source).

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 (47Trusted Source).

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 consumed in large amounts.

This means that chewing lots of sugar-free gum could cause digestive distress and diarrhea (48Trusted Source).

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 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 (49Trusted Source).

Eating too much sugar is also associated with a number of health conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes (50Trusted Source).

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 (51Trusted Source52Trusted Source).

Chewing gum has been linked to headaches

One research review suggests that regularly chewing gum may trigger headaches in people prone to migraine episodes and tension-type headaches (53Trusted Source).

More research is needed, but the researchers suggested that people who experience migraine might want to limit their gum chewing.

Which chewing gum should you choose?

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

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 doesn’t contain any ingredients you have an intolerance to. Check in with a dentist or dietitian for help deciding which type of gum is best for you.

The bottom line

The ingredients in chewing gum have been established as safe for humans to consume. In fact, 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.

Comments