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Is chewing gum bad for you?

Is chewing gum bad for you?

There are a lot of good reasons to chew gum.

Bad breath? Chew a piece of gum!
Bored? Chew a piece of gum!
Hungry? Chew a piece of gum!
Feel stressed? Chew a piece of gum!
Want something sweet without eating something sweet? Chew a piece of gum!
Just had coffee and don’t want to wipe out everyone else in the office? Chew a piece of gum!

But I started to question if chewing gum was bad for me over the past few years, mostly because I noticed whenever I chewed gum, I’d be more hungry than usual, even if I had a piece after a large meal that would normally sustain me for 3 or 4 hours.

While I’ve never been a self-described gum addict (or a fan of artificial sweeteners), I would sometimes make an exception when it came to gum.

If you’ve ever wondered “Is chewing gum bad for you?”, you’ll want to read this post and share it with your friends.

What I uncovered from my research on chewing gum and health will make you think before you chew. Below I cover 8 reasons to question your gum chewing habit.

When it comes to chewing gum, you should know that it…

1. Trains you to crave sweets

The more sweet you taste, the more your taste buds prefer sweet. It’s as simple as that. The less we expose ourselves to sweet tastes, from naturally sweet foods or artificial sweeteners, the less our taste buds will crave them.

Artificial sweeteners, precisely because they are sweet, encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence. Repeated exposure trains flavor preference. A strong correlation exists between a person’s customary intake of a flavor and his preferred intensity for that flavor.” – Yale J Biol Med, 2010

2. Can be addictive

Sweet tastes activate the same reward pathways in the brain that are triggered with drug addiction. And an oft quoted rat study on the addictive capacity of artificial sweeteners demonstrates this perfectly.

When rats were allowed to choose mutually-exclusively between water sweetened with saccharin–an intense calorie-free sweetener–and intravenous cocaine–a highly addictive and harmful substance–the large majority of animals (94%) preferred the sweet taste of saccharin.” – PLoS, 2007

Moreover, the satisfaction we get from actual sugar (as measured by brain imaging) is dampened in people who regularly consume artificial sweeteners. This means if you’re using sugar-free gum to satisfy your sweet tooth, it’s not working and it may be making you more addicted to sugar.

A negative correlation between artificial sweetener use and amygdala response to sucrose ingestion was observed.” – Appetite, 2012

3. Messes up your digestion

Chewing prepares your body to digest food, releasing a complex cascade of acids, enzymes, and digestive hormones. We have a direct nerve connection from our gut to our brain and when we start chewing, we trigger innumerable metabolic reactions within our body.

Gum works so well to stimulate digestive juices that it’s even been suggested for people who’ve undergone GI surgery to increase bowel motility while they are still unable to eat food.

The use of gum chewing in the postoperative period is a safe method to stimulate bowel motility and reduce ileus after colorectal surgery.” – Diseases Of The Colon And Rectum, 2007

While gum certainly has a place for postoperative patients, it doesn’t exert beneficial effects for everyone. Anecdotally, some folks have heartburn or indigestion from chewing gum, since acid levels rise to match the food your body expects to digest, only to find it never arrives. Gum can also cause bloating if you swallow air while chewing. But it doesn’t stop there. Chewing gum can negatively impact gut bacteria, as I’ll discuss below.

4. Kills your good bacteria

Just about everything we eat affects our gut bacteria. Certain foods, such as vegetables, support the growth of beneficial bacteria while certain foods or substances harm these populations. A recent study showed that artificial sweeteners negatively affects our good bacteria (probiotics) and may impact our metabolism. In this study, rats with no gut bacteria received bacteria from mice that had been fed artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, or saccharin). What happened is fascinating:

Once these bug-free mice were treated with the feces of normal mice that had eaten artificial sweeteners, their blood sugar levels spiked upon eating artificial sweeteners, suggesting that the gut bugs were the driving force in the reaction.” – Nature, 2014

Splenda (sucralose) specifically has negative effects on gut bacteria, even at levels one fifth of the doses considered “safe” by the FDA (called the Acceptable Daily Intake):

Evidence indicates that a 12-wk administration of Splenda exerted numerous adverse effects, including (1) reduction in beneficial fecal microflora, (2) increased fecal pH, and (3) enhanced expression levels of P-gp, CYP3A4, and CYP2D1, which are known to limit the bioavailability of orally administered drugs.” – Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 2008

Splenda’s antibacterial effects make sense when you look at the organic chemistry and see three molecules of chlorine, a potent bacteria killer.

At the end of the 12-wk treatment period, the numbers of total anaerobes, bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, Bacteroides, clostridia, and total aerobic bacteria were significantly decreased.” – Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 2008

5. Can lead to food sensitivities

Our bodies like change. If we go back in time to hunter-gatherer days, we had to eat by the seasons. That meant we’d only have certain plant and animal foods available at specific times of the year. Nowadays, we can buy exotic food from all over the world at any time of year and many foods have become daily staples. With my work in food sensitivities, I regularly see a pattern when I receive the results of food sensitivity tests.

Some of the foods that people are reliant on can become reactive over time when their immune system never gets a break. And whenever I see mint or artificial sweeteners come up reactive, one of the first questions I ask is if the person chews gum regularly. It might seem benign, but if you’re struggling with chronic digestive issues or other inflammatory symptoms, you might try laying off the gum for a bit.

6. Makes you hungry

You can’t fool your brain. When the body tastes something sweet, it anticipates it will receive calories… only in the case of artificially sweetened gum, it doesn’t happen. Dr Wurtman from MIT has demonstrated in rat studies that aspartame suppressed the increase in serotonin concentrations that normally follow glucose ingestion. This leaves your body confused, unsatisfied, and hungry for real food, which has been well documented in studies.

Relative to groups given nothing or unsweetened gum base to chew, groups given the [aspartame] sweetened gum bases increased hunger ratings” – Psychol & Behav, 1990

Add to this the confusion your body gets when chewing triggers the release of digestive juices (described above) only to find that real food never enters your stomach, and you have a double whammy effect on hunger levels.

7. Disregulates your blood sugar

A classic reason people choose gum (and artificially sweetened products) is to cut back on sugar and to control diabetes. For many years it was believed that artificial sweeteners do not and cannot raise the blood sugar. But a recent study published in the journal Nature has flipped this thinking upside down when it was revealed that people who consume the most artificial sweeteners were more likely to have blood sugar problems.

The usual rebuttal is that people who consume artificial sweeteners already have weight problems and overeat despite consuming artificial sweeteners, but when they gave a group of people who didn’t regularly consume artificial sweeteners controlled amounts of saccharin, 57% had a significant increase in blood sugar levels. Research in rats came to the same conclusion and it appears that the interaction between artificial sweeteners and gut bacteria is to blame.

Depending on the types of microbes they had in their intestines, some people and mice saw a two- to fourfold increase in blood sugars after consuming the artificial sweeteners.” – Nature, 2014

8. Confuses your satiety signals

Your body isn’t dumb and it knows when it doesn’t get the real thing. Part of how our body regulates food intake is the release of gut hormones, some of which are called “satiety peptides”. When this process works normally, you eat food and your body releases these satiety peptides to tell you when it’s had enough. But this doesn’t happen after eating artificial sweeteners or from chewing artificially sweetened gum.

In a study comparing satiety from real sugar verses artificial sweeteners, researchers compared the release of gastrointestinal satiety peptides following ingestion. The artificial sweeteners they tested included aspartame, acesulfame K, and sucralose. The carbohydrate sweeteners (real sugar) triggered satiety and the release of satiety peptides, whereas none of the artificial sweeteners had this effect.

Both carbohydrate sugars increased satiety and fullness… In contrast, equisweet loads of artificial sweeteners did not affect gastrointestinal peptide secretion with minimal effects on appetite.” – British Journal of Nutrition, 2011

So am I 100% against chewing gum?

Of course not!

I’ll grab an occasional piece to freshen my breath, but I try to chew gum without artificial sweeteners (xylitol-sweetened gums are available at health food stores).

I also never chew gum in lieu of eating if my body is telling me I’m hungry or if I’m craving sugar. (Despite what shows like the Biggest Loser suggest). Eating the real thing in (very) small amounts is always better than the fake stuff.

I’m also fully aware that if I chew gum, chances are I’m going to be hungrier, so I’m not going to be surprised or frustrated at my body when only an hour and a half after a decent sized meal, it wants food again. My body is simply communicating what’s going on inside and listening to these signals is always a priority of mine.

Now, there is some research that gum might be a good thing.

That’s because the act of chewing itself can help ease anxiety and stress. So the idea is – if you’re less stressed, you’ll be less inclined to use food to manage it. Unfortunately, if the gum contains the artificial sweeteners, you’re working against yourself for reasons I outlined above.

Plus, I believe distracting yourself from stress by chewing perpetuates the idea that eating will solve your stress or emotional problems, which it won’t. As a temporary fix to alleviate anxiety, I see no problem, but when it becomes a daily crutch to avoid the real issue at hand, it’s not serving your highest good.

A recent research article sums it up well: “Non-caloric artificial sweetener consumption is considered safe and beneficial owing to their low caloric content, yet supporting scientific data remain sparse and controversial.” – Nature, 2014

There is no magic sweetener that will taste exactly like sugar without any of the risks. I play it safe and choose not to make a habit of consuming artificial sweeteners or artificially sweetened gum.

How about you? What signals does your body send you when you chew gum?

Have you ever suspected gum isn’t good for you? If so, why?

Until next week,
Lily

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Category: Best of Blog, Food Facts, Nutrition Basics, Prenatal
{ 27 comments… add one }
  • Meg @ Mr.C & Me October 7, 2014, 7:10 am

    I stopped chewing gum awhile ago but used to use it for stress, fresh breath, when taking tests in college, to help not bite my nails, etc. Tapered off because my jaw started to not like it, then ultimately gave it up when I did food sensitivity testing and things I was sensitive to (lecithin, salicylic acid) were found in my favorite gums.

    • Lily October 7, 2014, 10:56 am

      How interesting, Meg! Yeah, all mint gums contain salicylic acid and most contain lecithin. And I didn’t even get into the weird additives added to most chewing gums! That could be #9 on the list.

  • Lizette Stone October 7, 2014, 10:21 am

    This information is spot-on-fantastic! I chewed my first piece of gum about a week ago, after not doing so for months. And can you believe that after about 5 minutes I felt so ill that I actually turned to my husband in the car and said, “I think chewing gum is bad for my health because all of a sudden I feel sick to my stomach!” Not to mention that my jaw began to hurt and I even became irritable! I’m happy to read that I wasn’t overreacting or losing my mind. Ha! Thanks for the insight, Lily!! Sat Nam.

    • Lily October 7, 2014, 10:57 am

      Now you have your answer, Lizette!

  • liane October 7, 2014, 10:45 am

    I have always wondered about this!! My young daughters are always asking to have gum (they see their friends!). I usually say no, but have started letting them have a xylitol sweetened gum (with added vitamin B12!) as a special treat… but I was worried about the effect on their little tummies. Thanks setting the record straight.

    • Lily October 7, 2014, 11:00 am

      Yeah Liane, the occasional xylitol sweetened gum to freshen your breath or clean your teeth after a meal (xylitol has good research in preventing tooth decay) seems fine.

  • Brittany October 7, 2014, 11:25 am

    Lily, I shared your post with my coworker and she raised the question, “Does this also apply to mints?”

    • Lily October 7, 2014, 2:38 pm

      Hi Brittany. Good question! I’d say yes – all of the above would also apply to mints (assuming they’re sweetened with artificial sweeteners) except #3, since mints conceivably don’t require as much (or at least not sustained) chewing.

  • maya October 7, 2014, 8:09 pm

    Thank you Lily, I appreciate your insights.

    I have recently tried erythritol (sugar alcohol). Do you have any information on it?

    • Lily October 7, 2014, 10:16 pm

      Hi Maya,
      Erythritol is a pretty safe sugar alcohol. That and xylitol seem to be fine in small amounts as a sugar replacement. Overall, I urge people to get used to less sweet foods in general, but sugar alcohols can be a way to wean off sugar or satisfy a craving.

      • Anonymous October 8, 2014, 2:47 am

        Thank you Lily, you are a great blessing

  • Lisa Callahan October 7, 2014, 8:28 pm

    I am a fitness coach and I deal with a lot of family’s that just need to “keep it clean” when it comes to their eating habits. I help them to learn to control what they keep inside their homes and how to control their choices and portions outside the home. I just had a whole debate with a 12 year old boy that I am trying to teach healthy habits to about gum and artificial flavors an colors. I am NOT a fan of gum. As a licensed massage therapist as well, I can tell you that gum chewing is the number 1 problem of neck issues and I am constantly begging my clients not to chew it anymore! I am going to share your blog with my Trilife Body Management Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/trilifebodymanagement?ref=bookmarks
    I enjoy reading your posts!!

    Lisa Callahan

    • Lily October 7, 2014, 10:14 pm

      You bring up a good point about neck issues and gum chewing, Lisa. Feel free to share this article with your clients.

      PS – I’m so glad to hear you enjoy my posts! 🙂

  • Stacey October 8, 2014, 9:58 am

    Funny you should publish this post, Lily…I noticed about 2 months ago that in the late afternoon/evening, the time of day when I most often pop a piece of gum, I was experiencing a surge in cravings, which I contributed to stress and female hormones. But during the day, when I avoid chewing gum at length, I don’t have these same issues. I intentionally went without chewing gum a couple of days after dinner, and the cravings disappeared. I agree with what you state, with or without the research behind it! We are all different, and while some may not experience cravings with chewing gum, I do…and it doesn’t matter if it is Xylitol-based or splenda-based or some other added sweetener. I think the act of chewing with that sweetness is what sets me off 🙂 Thanks for another great post!

    • Lily October 8, 2014, 11:54 am

      I love hearing about your experiment with gum, Stacey. I had similar observations and that’s what started this quest for more research. 🙂

  • Nour Zibdeh October 8, 2014, 2:46 pm

    Thanks for the post Lily…. I stopped chewing gum too. It did make me hungry and get heartburn. I was using it to help me digest food when I felt bloated after a meal. The only thing is that sugar-alcohols, such as xylitol, can cause bloating so I think it was making the problem worse (it certainly didn’t help).
    For bad breath, sometimes chewing on some fresh mint leaves, parsley, or grated fresh ginger might help. I know it’s not as convenient as popping a piece of gum… 🙂

    • Lily October 14, 2014, 4:54 pm

      Chewing on some fresh herbs after meals to freshen your breath and support digestion is great, Nour! I love when Indian restaurants offer fennel seeds after the meal. That’s certainly a healthy gum alternative.

  • Kara Sorensen October 15, 2014, 4:24 pm

    Lily,
    I love all the research you shared! I have found the same thing, that gum triggers hunger and cravings and make it an occasional treat.

    Kara

    • Lily October 23, 2014, 5:13 pm

      I knew I wasn’t the only one! The research is one thing, but hearing stories from all of you confirms it.

  • Amy Hager October 23, 2014, 5:10 pm

    Was this written for me or what? I was an avid gum chewer and it lead to compulsive chewing- mostly to relieve anxiety at work. It didn’t help that my favorite brand was addictively sweet (Five- Rain anyone?) Ultimately, it led to extreme jaw soreness, headaches and the worst intestinal bloating and gas from all the sorbitol. I realized I can’t “just have one”- thanks food industry! Ironically, I have much less anxiety now giving it up. Once in a while I get the urge to chew a piece and the GI upset that results reminds me I don’t care for the side effects anymore. It’s not as fun as it used to be- much like other vices I had. What a great resource you put together- I can’t wait to share with clients who ask me if gum is “good or bad.”

    • Lily October 29, 2014, 11:08 am

      What a story, Amy!

      It’s true, the food industry really likes to play off our cravings and turn treats into compulsive habits. Intensely sweet or high carbohydrate foods (and then all the chemical flavors) are crazy addictive.

  • Suzanna Keenan March 8, 2015, 2:59 pm

    Hi! Thank you! I am always doing research for inspiration on how to quit chewing gum and drinking diet soda but I feel so helplessly addicted. I used it to quit smoking several years ago (certainly a better alternative) but now find it is even harder to quit chewing gum and grabbing a diet coke. I also lost a lot of weight a few years back, and am now back in graduate school. The constant studying makes me want to eat the whole time I’m at the books. Chewing gum has been a life saver- but then- not really- because as you say, I find myself always feeling hungry, my jaw hurts, and I only crave more and more gum (I often put in once piece right after the last). Of course I know it’s terrible, but advice and information like this always helps to motivate the tough behavior changes necessary to break these habits! If you have any other advice for someone who is struggling with it… I’m always all ears! Thank you! In a sea of terrible nutrition information on the web, your blog is a treat to read!

    Suzy

    • Lily March 9, 2015, 9:55 am

      Yeah Suzanna, it sounds like chewing gum has become a habitual response to stress, just as it does for a lot of people. Are there other ways you can manage stress? I cover 5 of my favorites in this post. I also find that mindfulness – both in relation to your stress and food/gum chewing can be helpful. This exercise is one of the best for that.

  • TT August 30, 2016, 11:13 am

    Lily, do you think this stuff about artificial sweeteners applies to stevia powder, too?

    • Lily August 31, 2016, 6:55 pm

      I’ve observed some clients have trouble with sugar cravings when stevia is overused, but otherwise, I think it’s an OK sugar alternative in moderation.

  • Cassie Autumn Tran August 31, 2016, 4:46 pm

    Gum just never really appealed to me. I thought the sound it made was really annoying, the texture was gross and the flavors weren’t worth the fact that the taste goes away after a few minutes!

  • رژیم غذایی October 28, 2016, 1:01 pm

    Xylitol helps to prevent plaque bacteria sticking to the teeth. Studies have shown that xylitol can help reduce tooth decay and even help reverse the decay itself by helping to replace the minerals in tooth enamel.

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