Most of us know chewing gum as a substitute for candy, or a candy-esque item we grab at the convenience store.
But while it is certainly a fun distraction, chewing gum – especially in its sugar-free form – is more than just blowing bubbles, it in fact works as a mood booster and stress reliever.
The systematic process of chewing has been found to decrease the levels of salivary cortisol, which is responsible for regulating the body’s stress response. Chewing sugar-free gum promotes the production of saliva, aiding in the removal of bacteria, viruses, and toxins present in the mouth, nasopharynx, and upper gastrointestinal tract.
In contrast to commonly consumed stimulants like coffee, which can lead to restlessness, jitters, or jaw clenching, chewing gum helps individuals maintain a composed state without these negative effects. Many of these advantages can be attributed to the use of xylitol, an artificial sweetener commonly found in sugar-free gum. “Under experimental conditions, gum was associated with higher alertness regardless of whether performance tasks were completed and altered sustained attention,” found this 2017 study.
Chewing has been found to enhance memory due to its ability to enhance oxygen flow to the brain regions associated with attention. A study published in the British Journal of Psychology in 2012, examined by The Scientific American, revealed that individuals who chewed gum during an exercise involving listening to a 30-minute recording of number sequences exhibited superior focus compared to non-chewers.
Gum has the ability to stimulate the release of endorphins, which are hormones known for their mood-enhancing and pain-alleviating properties. By chewing gum, endorphins are released into the bloodstream, subsequently promoting an increase in blood flow to the brain. This heightened blood circulation can effectively enhance both mood and alertness. Moreover, chewing gum has been found to alleviate stress and enhance cognitive functions.
In this 2009 study, researchers conclude that “the data here suggest that chewing gum has beneficial effects on a number of measures during two intensities of laboratory stress. Compared with the no chewing condition, gum chewing was associated with significantly higher alertness coupled with reduced subjective stress and state anxiety.” “Positive attributes of effects of chewing on attention, especially on sustained attention, were shown in over half of the reports. These effects also appeared with improvement in mood and stress relief and were influenced by time-on-task effect,” concludes this 2015 study. Even research as recent as a year ago finds that chewing gum is an affordable, safe, and effective way of reducing anxiety and stress.
Instead of looking at sugar-free chewing gum merely as confectionery, we should consider chewing gum for its health benefits and regarding it a boost for mood, memory and concentration also. Maybe it deserves its place not only in the impulse purchase section of gas stations, but also in the health & wellness aisles of supermarkets and sports gear stores alike.
Bill Wirtz is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Consumer Choice Center.