Chewing gum improves academic performance – expert says

Taking chewing gum
Closeup detail of woman putting pink chewing gum into her mouth.

This article seems funny though but I am tempted to do this write-up due to the many female students I have seen who are glued to their gum. It appears that some are addicted to their gum and cannot do away with it. But the question is why the health benefits of chewing gum are?

What is chewing Gum?

The Health line writer notes that chewing gum is a soft, rubbery substance that’s designed to be chewed but not swallowed. Helen West (2021) article further held that the chewing gum recipes can differ based on brands, but they all 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.

Chewing Gum, Science

Reduces Stress and boosts memory

Five studies (Hirano and Onozuka, 2015; Allen and Smith, 2015; Chen et al. 2015; Hirano and Onozuka, 2014; Hirano et al. 2013) demonstrate that chewing gum enhances brain function, including alertness, memory, understanding, and decision-making.

Also, a recent randomized controlled trial by Yaman-Sözbir et al. (2019) established that students who chewed gum over 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.  These studies are beginning to wow me to start chewing as well.  Check this one as well: Tucha and Simpson,(2011) also found that chewing gum could provide a bit of a distraction when performing any task at the start but could help you focus for longer periods.

Another, Onyper et al. (2011) found an impact of chewing gum during the first 15–20 minutes of a task.  It is interesting how just chewing gum improves memory. Some say that memory improvement is due to increased blood flow to the brain caused by chewing gum.

Two more studies (Smith et al. 2012; Smith, A, 2013) also confirmed that chewing gum could decrease stress and increase feelings of attentiveness.

In a small study (Smith and Woods, 2012) on university students, chewing gum for 2 weeks reduced participants’ feelings of stress, especially about academic workload. As to why this is so in academic performances.  Two studies (Kubo et al. 2015; Konno et al. 2016) explained that it has to do with the art of chewing which has been linked to reduced levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.

Though Allen et al. 2015 study found that chewing gum improves memory only at the time of chewing the gum.  Smith, A(2016) on the other hand, found that the impact is more on those who chew throughout the day.

Chewing gum improves weight loss

Studies found that Chewing gum could benefit 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

Two studies(Xu et al. 2015; Lasschuijt et al. 2020) found that chewing gum could reduce appetite, which may avert overeating.

One small study(Park et al. 2016) also found that chewing gum between meals reduced feelings of hunger and decreased consumption of high-carb snacks in the afternoon.

Another small study(Kanno et al. 2019) found that chewing gum while walking could help burn more calories.

Other studies reported different findings. For instance, two studies(Mattes and Considine, 2013; Shikany et al. 2012) found that chewing gum does not affect appetite or energy intake over a day.

Though, one study(Swoboda and Temple, 2013)  also held that those who chewed gum were less likely to snack on fruit.  This could be because the participants were chewing minty gum before eating, which made the fruit taste bad.

Finally, Kresge and  Melanson(2015) agreed that chewing gum may enhance metabolic rate.

Chewing gum improves breath, and protects teeth

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 dental health.

Xu et al. (2015) found that chewing gum sweetened with the sugar alcohol xylitol is more effective than other sugar-free gums at averting tooth decay.  Two studies (Takeuchi et al. 2018; Chavan et al. 2015) explained that xylitol averts the growth of the bacteria that cause tooth decay and bad breath.

One study (Bahador et al. 2012) found that chewing xylitol-sweetened gum reduced the number of bad bacteria in the mouth by up to 75%.

Finally, Wessel et al.(2016)  held that chewing gum after a meal increases saliva flow thus washing away harmful sugars and food debris, both of which feed bacteria in the mouth.

Warnings

Apart from the numerous benefits, chewing too much gum could cause some unwanted side effects. Moderation is always the key to everything.

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. In one study, Liauw and Saibil (2019) found that chewing lots of sugar-free gum could cause digestive distress and diarrhea.  Furthermore, all sugar alcohols are FODMAPs, which can cause digestive problems for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Sugar-sweetened gum is bad for dental and metabolic health

Chewing gum sweetened with sugar is bad for the teeth. For instance, Rugg-Gunn, A(2013) explained that sugar is digested by the bad bacteria in the mouth, causing an increase in the amount of plaque on the teeth and tooth decay over time.

Additionally, Bray and  Popkin, (2014) also held that eating too much sugar is also linked with several health conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes

Chewing gum too much causes problems with the jaw

Frequent chewing could lead to a jaw problem called temporomandibular disorder (TMD), which causes pain when you chew. Two studies (Tabrizi et al. 2014; Correia et al. 2014) found a link between excessive chewing and TMD.

Chewing gum, headaches

Lippi et al. (2015) review suggests that frequently chewing gum could cause headaches in those prone to migraine episodes and tension-type headaches, though more research is needed.

Take Home

The recommended is sugar-free gum made with xylitol.  However, for those with IBS. Sugar-free gum contains FODMAPs, which can cause digestive problems. Also, choose a gum sweetened with a low-calorie sweetener such as stevia. Chewing gum is generally safe, always read the label.

NB:

Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups.  My articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as Medical advice for Treatment. I aim to educate the public about evidence-based scientific Naturopathic Therapies.

The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, a Medical Journalist, and a science writer. President, Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT), African Naturopathic Foundation, Ashaiman, Ghana. E. mail: professor40naturopathy@gmail.com.

References

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