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Chewing Gum for Stress Relief

May 22, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Chew on this: When you’re stressed out or feeling less than mentally focused, you may just want to pop a piece of gum into your mouth. Over the past few years several scientific studies have all pointed to a very real psychological benefit derived from simply masticating repeatedly.

The upcoming June 2009 issue of Physiology and Behavior, details a trial that sought to investigate the effect of chewing gum on negative mood and stress hormone levels. 40 college-aged volunteers engaged in stressful “multi-tasking” exercises while chewing gum or not chewing gum. Before and after the stress provoking activities, the participants took several diagnostic tests that measured anxiety, mood and stress levels. Saliva samples were also taken in order to measure levels of cortisol, one of the primary stress hormones. (1)

  • The stressful exercises reduced “alterness, calmness and contentment”. Levels of anxiety and stress increased during said exercises as well. Both of the effects were anticipated.
  • When gum was administered, it: a) improved alertness; b) reduced anxiety and stress and; c) decreased cortisol levels in the saliva.
  • The collective performance on the stressful tests was also better when the volunteers chewed gum.

The authors of the study theorized that improved blood flow and oxygen to the brain may be part of the reason for these positive changes in performance and psychological well being.

This next study enrolled two groups of Internet users. One set were regular “chewers”, which was defined as chewing gum a minimum of 4 days a week and at least 11 pieces of gum weekly. This included frequent gum use right up to the start of the study. The second set of volunteers chewed gum infrequently and had no gum for 7 days prior to beginning the experiment.

The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) was used to determine any changes in levels of stress during the trials. Similar effects were found in both groups. When the participants chewed gum, their perception of stress dropped. When they abstained from gum chewing, they generally reported feeling less relaxed and more tense. But, more severe symptoms such as feeling “upset” or “frightened” were not improved by chewing gum. (2)

An April 2009 study conducted at the Cardiff University School of Psychology attempted to broaden the scope of gum chewing research. The volunteers were analyzed using two tests. One focused on mood and short-term memory. The other quantified mood, “delayed recall of information” and “intelligence”, using the Alice Heim Test. The researchers noted an improvement in test performance and increased alertness. However, there was no significant improvement in short or longer term memory recall.

The memory issue is still under evaluation. A recent study in the journal Neuroscience Letters utilized MRI testing to help explain this phenomenon. Images taken during memory tests in gum users indicate increased activity in key regions of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and the thalamus, that may “accelerate or recover the process of working memory”. (3)

The consistent effects of gum on mood may be related to both a drop in stress hormone levels, but could also be impacted by the effect of rhythmic gum chewing on serotonin availability in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that plays a major role in feelings of contentment, perception of pain and psychological stability. (4)

How Stress Impacts the Body

What’s also exciting about this rather obscure line of research is that science is now discovering how to use chewing most efficiently. One example was recently discovered at Tokyo’s Dental College. The researchers there found that, “the effect on stress release with fast chewing is greater than that of slow chewing”. (5)

Scientists are even experimenting with adding substances to gum to further improve mental performance. In April 2009, a study in the journal Human Psychopharmacology assessed the effects of caffeine-supplemented gum on parameters of alertness and focus. The gum used in the study contained 40mg of caffeine per piece.

118 healthy young adults took part in this experiment. The participants were given either regular gum, no gum, or the caffeine-enriched gum. The caffeinated gum improved mood, promoted sustained attention and benefited test performance. This enhanced gum also increased mental processing speed. (6)

I occasionally chew gum after meals in order to protect my teeth and gums and to freshen my breath. I use a xylitol sweetened gum, which is especially useful for conferring oral health benefits without raising blood sugar. Now that I’m more aware of the mental benefits of chewing, I’ll make sure to chew gum more often and faster!

Be well!

JP

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11 Comments & Updates to “Chewing Gum for Stress Relief”

  1. Glenn Fernandes Says:

    Thanks a lot for posting this article. Its very useful. I had no idea about the good effects of chewing gums. If it really reduces stress, will surely try next time.

  2. JP Says:

    You’re welcome, Glenn.

    Please let me know how it works out for you.

    Be well!

    JP

  3. anne h Says:

    Since starting a Low Carb Diet, I always have Sugar Free gum on -hand.
    I masticate all day! Every chance I get….
    And I share – sharing is caring!

  4. JP Says:

    A fine strategy – on both counts. :)

    Be well!

    JP

  5. emily disla Says:

    thanks 4 posting this posting

  6. JP Says:

    You’re welcome, Emily!

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Jonathan Says:

    I see this is an older article, but thanks for “bumping it up”. I know Dr. Mercola is pretty much against chewing gum..but even using his logic you’d think after a meal would be a great time to chew. Gum, that is.

  8. JP Says:

    Jonathan,

    I think that post-meal gum chewing is likely health promoting. Most of us simply don’t chew our food as well as we should. This almost certainly affects our digestive potential. Chewing gum can compensate for this sub-par level of mastication.

    The best endorsement I can give is whether I do something myself and/or would recommend it to my loved ones. I chew xylitol sweetened gum after many meals and I suggest the same to my family.

    Incidentally, I plan to post an update on gum chewing in the April 29th edition of Twitter Thursday.

    Be well!

    JP

  9. ET Says:

    Great article.

    Fails to mention the increased TMJ (jaw) dysfunction and headaches associated with gum chewing.

    Also, these artificial sweentners DO NOT have enough history or research to verify the safety.

    Interestingly, Xlytol is extremely poisonous to dogs.

    Xylitol is a processed sugar. After being hydrogenated and having toxic chemicals added to xylan from corn or other plant material, and then removed, you get xylitol. For anyone who wants to be healthy, the first thing that is pretty much unanimous about any diet or protocol to restore your health, is that you need to avoid processed sugars. While there is a variety of opinions on what foods to eat in replacement of processed sugar, it is blatantly clear that processed sugars, like xylitol, are extremely harmful to humans. Perhaps, xylitol has special uses in special cases; as a regular part of your diet, it is clearly a poor idea.

  10. JP Says:

    Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments, ET.

    It’s true that xylitol is toxic for dogs, but so is avocado, chocolate, garlic and several other foods that are typically health promoting for humans.

    The evidence for harm stemming from xylitol (in humans) is lacking, IMO. In fact, there have been some rather positive findings of late:

    http://www.healthyfellow.com/465/erythritol-and-xylitol-news/

    Be well!

    JP

  11. Rifat Says:

    This article really works now I have a source for my speech thanks JP!!!!

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