Can you beat the stress and anxiety with sugar-free gum? Find out one of the interesting benefits of chewing gum—and some of its caveats.
In this article:
- Kill the Stress with a Chewing Gum
- How Does a Piece of Gum Do It?
- Other Benefits of Sugar-Free Gum
- Some Caveats on Chewing Sugar-Free Gum
- Should You Use Sugar-Free Gum?
Sugar-Free Gum Helps Beat Stress and Anxiety, Study Says
Kill the Stress with a Chewing Gum
Many studies suggest that chewing gum may be dangerous to dental hygiene and overall health, but a sugar-free gum may have an opposite effect. It may even help relieve stress and reduce anxiety.
That’s the finding of a 2008 study by Australian researchers. They shared their results in the 10th International Congress of Behavioral Medicine in Tokyo, Japan.
For their investigation, the team recruited 40 people with an average age of 22 years old. These people participated in different stress- and anxiety-inducing activities that include either chewing gum or not.
Based on the results, they found out that:
- Gum chewers reduced their anxiety by 17% when they’re under mild stress and 10% when in moderate stress compared to the non-gum chewers.
- Those who chewed sugar-free gum also boosted their level of alertness by almost 19% when in mild stress.
- The levels of cortisol in their saliva also dropped by 16% during mild stress than non-gum chewers.
- While both groups showed marked improvement in performance, the percentage was higher among gum chewers.
What is cortisol? A stress hormone that raises blood sugar (glucose), blood pressure, and heart rate
How Does a Piece of Gum Do It?
According to the researchers, a stick of gum may help alleviate stress and anxiety with its association with relaxing social behaviors. A clinical review in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Research may provide more ideas.
1. It Helps Regulate Glucose Metabolism
Stress changes the body’s functions and processes in many ways. As mentioned, it forces the production of cortisol, which raises glucose.
Glucose should help you become more alert and energetic, so you can deal with stressors more effectively. The problem comes in when the person is already experiencing chronic stress.
Under chronic stress, the body continues to produce low doses of cortisol even when stressors are not present. It can then raise the risk of insulin resistance and even diabetes due to high glucose levels.
What is insulin resistance? A condition where the cells become less sensitive to insulin, a hormone that delivers glucose
The clinical review suggests that chewing gum can raise glucose metabolism in the part of the brain involved in cognition. This increase in metabolism links to lower production of salivary cortisol.
2. It May Increase Serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in the feelings of happiness and well-being. Studies associate lower levels of it to increased risk of depression and anxiety.
The clinical review showed that chewing gum could increase the activity of neurons that help produce and regulate serotonin.
RELATED: Reducing Stress
Other Benefits of Sugar-Free Gum
Lowering stress and anxiety may not be the only benefits of chewing gum, especially if it’s sugar-free. Here are other advantages:
1. It Decreases Dependence on Caffeine and Nicotine
Are you sensitive to the effects of caffeine from coffee, energy drinks, caffeinated gum, and black tea? These drinks may keep you awake, but they can also lead to palpitations, leading to feelings of anxiety.
An alternative may be chewing an energy gum with “sugar-free” ingredients. These may include sugar alcohols such as xylitol and sorbitol.
Chewing sugar-free gum may also help reduce your need for nicotine from cigarettes. Smoking remains one of the leading risk factors for:
- Heart disease
- Some types of cancer such as lung cancer
- Damage to the blood vessels
2. It May Improve Oral Hygiene and Reduce Tooth Decay
One of the common beliefs is chewing gum can lead to poor oral hygiene. It can lead to dental caries (or dental cavities), dental plaque, and gum disease.
The primary reason is sugar. The mouth contains thousands of bacteria that, like many microorganisms, feed on sugar.
Excessive sugar can disrupt the balance of microorganisms in the mouth, increasing the production of the bad ones. The bad bacteria can:
- Destroy tooth enamel, which helps keep your teeth strong
- Increase the likelihood of tooth loss due to gum disease and dental cavities
- Boost the chances of developing bad breath
A 2007 systematic review revealed that sugar-free gum may have a positive effect on oral hygiene than sugared gum. It may decrease the appearance of dental caries.
It could be because sugar-free gum doesn’t have artificial sweeteners and has fewer calories. Second, it raises the production of saliva, which helps protect the mouth against dental plaque.
Increased saliva production can also help combat dry mouth. This condition can increase the odds of gingivitis and gum disease and creates the environment for bad bacteria to flourish.
Some Caveats on Chewing Sugar-Free Gum
Chewing sugar-free gum sounds like one of the quickest stress management techniques. Before you pop one into your mouth, though, remember the following:
1. It Doesn’t Have to Be Devoid of Sugar
Just because those breath mints say “sugar-free” doesn’t mean they don’t have sugar anymore. The FDA defines it as any product with not more than 0.5 grams of sugar.
Even the natural sweetener called Stevia has some sugar, although it’s generally low calorie. Worse, some types of sugar may be just as (or even more) harmful than regular or table sugar.
According to a Harvard University article, these artificial ingredients do not have nutritive value. They may also result in the overconsumption of these types of sweeteners, leading to:
- Limited ability to tolerate other types of taste such as those of less-sweet fruits as well as vegetables
- Stronger sugar cravings
- Swapping healthy food with those with lesser nutrition
There’s also the debate on whether aspartame, a popular artificial sweet ingredient, is dangerous or not to health. Some believe it can increase the risk of diseases, including some kinds of cancer.
A 2004 research, meanwhile, claimed that the press “demonized” it for years. One of the growing concerns of it is the amount of sweetness it contains.
It can sweeten anything up to 200 times more than regular sugar. Ideally, your body needs only a small amount of it.
2. It May Also Have Gluten
These days, you already have a variety of “healthier” gums to choose from. These include:
- Simply Gum, which also contains natural peppermint
- Orbit Gum from Wrigley’s, which can be sugarless
- Hershey’s Ice Breakers Ice Cubes, which is a xylitol gum
- Extra Gum, which is a sugar-free mint gum
Some types of gum, though, may contain gluten. It makes the product harmful for people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in the gut.
The body should be able to process gluten without problems. People with intolerance or celiac disease, meanwhile, develop digestive symptoms:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Changes in the bowel movement (particularly diarrhea)
- Bloating and gas
- Leaky gut syndrome
3. A Sugar-Free Gum May Worsen Acid Reflux
Acid reflux happens when stomach acid flow back up to your esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. It creates a burning sensation and sour taste in the mouth.
It hurts the esophagus that can lead to scarring and narrowing of the tube. Acid reflux even raises the risk of esophageal cancer, according to WebMD.
To be clear, chewing sugar-free gum can help reduce acid reflux by increasing the production of saliva. The problem is when it contains peppermint.
Peppermint can relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) or the muscle that separates the stomach and the esophagus. When this happens, stomach acids can flow back up easily.
Should You Use Sugar-Free Gum?
All products have their pros and cons, and sugar-free gum is not an exception.
Unless you have issues with gluten, acid reflux, or sugar, it seems the benefits outweigh the risks.
Note, though, you can do more than munching on a stick of gum and mints after meals to lower stress or improve oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing are still the best ways to manage dental health.
For your anxiety, you can explore supplements like Chill Pill. It contains dihydro honokiol-B, which is a potent anxiety remedy.
In the end, everything may be good for the body as long as you consume it in moderation.
Would you consider using sugar-free gum to manage your stress? Share your thoughts about it in the comments section below!