Opening up a pack of gum to keep yourself busy or to freshen your breath after a meal is a common habit for many and may increase alertness and enhance sustained attention. Several studies also suggest that sugar-free gum containing ingredients like xylitol can actually decrease cavities. However, the effect of gum on oral health is debated among researchers[2,3] and many people are wondering, “Is chewing gum bad for you?” If you chew a pack of gum a day, it can be. Here are four things you need to know about gum chewing.
It can cause headaches and migraines. A study in adolescents with either migraine or tension-type headache produced rather startling results on the relationship between headaches and gum chewing. All participants chewed gum anywhere from one to six hours per day. After discontinuing any gum chewing, all headache symptoms completely disappeared in 19 out of the 30 patients, and seven had partial improvements in symptoms. When they restarted their gum habit, 20 of the children experienced a relapse of headaches within a few days. The researchers believe that pressure on the temperomandibular joint caused by prolonged chewing triggered the headaches, and exposure to ingredients in gum like aspartame may also be involved.
Many sugar-free gums contain aspartame. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that has been used to replace refined sugar in food, candy, and gum for decades. Although there is continued debate over the subject, aspartame has been considered carcinogenic, and many researchers suggest that it be removed, or at least reduced in quantity, from public consumption.[5,6] It may also have negative side effects like influencing brain function and contributing to conditions like fibromyalgia.[7,8] Look for brands that use xylitol to sweeten instead, which seems to be a safer alternative.
It can contribute to temperomandibular joint disorders (TMD,). TMD (which is commonly referred to as TMJ) can cause pain in the jaw, neck, and shoulders, as well other unpleasant symptoms like a decreased range of jaw motion. One of the major causes of TMD is the overuse or improper use of chewing muscles. Chewing gum is associated with increased TMD symptoms, and restraining from this kind of habit is recommended as a self-management tool for those suffering from the condition.[9,10]
It may cause you to choose less healthy foods. Many people claim that chewing gum can help you to lose weight or to eat less. While preoccupying yourself by chewing gum when you are hungry might help you to restrain from a snack, research shows that it isn’t quite that simple. A study in the journal Eating Behaviors found that chewing mint gum prior to eating reduced intake and preference of healthier options like fruit. The authors suggest that there was “a reduction in consumption of nutrient rich foods” when participants chewed gum for a week compared to a week without any gum.
If you chew gum regularly, many times a day, try to cut back on your habit. It might help to replace gum with natural, sugar-free mints at first. Sometimes, sugar cravings can cause you to chew gum to satisfy the need for sweets; reducing your intake of sugars overall will help to curb your sugar cravings and halt your need to chew gum.
Reserve your pack of gum for special occasions and use a piece as a reward or a treat to yourself when you need one. Make sure you choose a sugar-free gum, but avoid aspartame by choosing a natural brand, like Pur Gum or Glee Gum, that uses xylitol instead.
Does gum negatively impact your health? What are you favorite alternatives to gum? Share your experience in the comments section below.
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 Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2012 Dec;16(15):2092-101.
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