You thought that gum under your fifth grade desk was old? Chewing gum is likely an ancient practice that started with folks chewing gum made from tree sap.
Today, chewing gum is made from these (mostly) man-made ingredients:
- Elastomers. Synthetic rubber-like substances that make gum chewable.
- Resins. Plant-based or synthetic ingredients added to help gum stay together.
- Waxes or oils. Help make gum soft and chewable when warmed.
- Fillers. Ingredients like calcium carbonate or talc can help add texture.
- Flavoring. Natural or artificial ingredients that give it that signature minty or fruity taste.
- Sweeteners. Gum may be sweetened with natural sugars or sugar substitutes like aspartame, stevia, or sugar alcohols.
It probably seems odd that chewing on a bunch of food-grade synthetic ingredients could be good for you. But science shows a number of ways certain ingredients and the actual chewing part may help your health.
1. Reduces stress
Ever reached for gum during a marathon study sesh — or an actual marathon? It might be because chewing helps lower stress levels. A small research review of 20 studies on chewing gum and stress found evidence that gum reduced stress for people in work and educational settings.
In a study of 100 students, researchers found evidence to support that chewing gum before exams helped students’ stress and test scores.
2. Boosts memory
Chewing gum has been linked to better cognition and memory, and a study with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests found that chewing gum activates the part of the brain associated with memory.
But experts said further research is needed to determine whether chewing gum could prevent memory loss or improve memory in people with brain injury.
3. Improves oral health
Chewing gum can actually be good for your teeth (just make sure it’s sugar-free!). Chewing sugar-free gum after you eatcan help clean food off your teeth, increase salivation to fight plaque, and rebuild enamel.
There’s also evidence gum containing xylitol (a sugar alcohol used to sweeten gum) changes the bacteria in your mouth. In a small study with 70 Japanese men, researchers evaluated the effect of chewing gum with xylitol on microorganisms in the men’s saliva. The group who chewed gum with xylitol had a significantly lower number of bacteria in their saliva than the control group.
4. Prevents ear infections
Yeah chewing gum can help pop your ears on an airplane, but it’s actually the ingredients, not the act of chewing, that may help ear infections.
Remember that sugar alcohol xylitol? Xylitol has actually been studied as a preventative for ear infections in children. Whether given to kids in a chewing gum, lozenge, or syrup, a research review found that xylitol seemed to help prevent bacterial infections via Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae that can lead to inner ear infections. But researchers also noted we need larger studies to know for sure, and it only seemed to benefit already healthy kiddos.
5. Helps you quit smoking
Though a regular piece of Hubba Bubba may keep your mouth occupied while you’re quitting cigarettes, there are better gums for the job.
A 2013 research review showed that nicotine replacement therapy, which includes the use of nicotine gum, is 80 percent more effective at helping people quit smoking than the placebo. Using two forms of nicotine replacement therapy is even more effective.
6. Helps your gut heal after surgery
Abdominal surgery can be rough on your digestion. There’s evidence that chewing gum can kick-start your sluggish bowels.
According to a small research review of 10 studies (including 1,659 participants), chewing gum improved the recovery of intestinal function after having a cesarean delivery, commonly referred to as a C-section. Chewing gum also seems to help people recover from colon surgery.
7. Relieves heartburn
Pop some gum after meals to ease indigestion and the dreaded burn. Because chewing gum increases the flow of saliva, it can help wash down digestive acid and improve reflux symptoms.
8. Satisfies your thirst
There’s no substitute for drinking water, and chewing gum won’t actually improve your body’s hydration. But there is some evidence that it can make you feel less thirsty in a pinch.
A small research review of 12 studies found that the increase in saliva from chewing gum helped relieve thirst and dry mouth. Still, keep drinking that H20.
9. Helps you see more clearly
OK, we’ll be honest. We need more info to prove the chewing gum and sight connection. But in a small study with 46 adults, researchers found that chewing gum improved eye focus.
You’ll still want to reach for your glasses instead of a pack of gum.