Chewing Gum

July 1, 2009

By johnmac

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You may have heard that chewing gum has certain health benefits, including stress management, weight management, increasing concentration/alertness and decreasing dental decay; however, many of these ‘benefits’ only come from very frequent gum chewing, e.g. at least 10 minutes every hour.

Many sources claim that this information is not backed up by sufficient research and that the pros of frequent gum chewing are heavily outweighed by the cons. I tend to agree. We were not designed to be constantly chewing!

There are many reasons to avoid frequent gum chewing:

  • Chewing gum ‘tricks’ the stomach into thinking that food is coming. The stomach will start to secrete acid and digestive enzymes even though it might be empty. If this happens often, it can throw the digestive system out of balance, potentially weakening the digestive process and causing problems such as frequent stomach aches and acid reflux ulcers;
  • Frequent gum chewing may cause wear and tear of the teeth and jaw and erode the biting surfaces of the teeth (which may increase the potential for dental decay and fractured fillings);
  • In experimental studies, chewing gum has been shown to increase the release rate of mercury vapor from dental amalgam fillings;
  • Chewing requires many facial muscles. Excessive chewing can cause tightness in some of these muscles which may potentially contribute to myofacial pain as well as headaches;
  • Most brands of gum are sweetened with artificial sweeteners (e.g. aspartame), many of which have been linked to numerous health issues and neurological disorders;
  • Chewing gum originated in Central America, where it was made from the the latex sap of the sapodilla tree. This sap was called chicle (probably where the name Chicklets came from). However, today, most gums are made from synthetic rubbers, such as polyethylene. How appealing does that sound? If you swallow your gum, don’t panic! It won’t stay in your stomach for 7 years! It will pass through your system. However, be aware that neither natural nor synthetic latex are readily degraded by the digestive system so frequent gum swallowing may contribute to the formation of an intestinal ‘stone’, called a bezoar or enterolith, which may remain trapped in your digestive system.

There is some good news. Recent research suggests that chewing gum sweetened with xylitol inhibits the growth of the bacteria Streptococcus mutans, which is primarily responsible for dental decay. Apparently, the proper protocol is to chew two pieces of gum 3 to 5 times per day for at least five minutes. I would suggest that you chew the gum right after eating so that you are not putting potential digestive stress on an empty stomach. Of course, brushing your teeth after every meal is the best protocol, but when this isn’t possible, chewing a xylitol-sweetened gum might not be a bad alternative.

Occasional gum chewing will likely not result in any serious problems, but a habit of frequent gum chewing just might.

References:

  1. www.mercola.com
  2. Journal of Dental Research, Vol. 75, No. 1, 594-598 (1996)
  3. Why Chewing Gum Is Bad For Your Health, Dr. Ben Kim, October 10, 2004; http://drbenkim.com/articles-gum.html
  4. Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, Russell L. Blaylock M.D., Health Press, Sante Fe, New Mexico, 1997
  5. http://parenting.ivillage.com/tp/tphealth/0,,43xk,00.html
  6. Nutrition Health Review, Summer, 1989 by Michael Elsohn
  7. http://chemistry.about.com/b/2006/11/09/chewing-gum-facts.htm
  8. http://drbenkim.com/articles-gum.html
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