Research Demonstrates You Can Do FAR More Than Walk And Chew Gum At The Same Time

Chomping on a wad of gum may not make you look all that intelligent (in fact, I always tell my kids it does the opposite).

However, some new research has just popped into the pipeline that’s got me thinking differently. Instead of eschewing the chewing, I may now be singing its praises. Want to know why?

Increase brain reaction by chewing gum

It may actually help make you smarter!

Chew On This

In one study,1 researchers from Japan asked 17 volunteers to watch a video screen and push buttons with their left and right thumbs. Each person did the task a few times, sometimes chewing gum, sometimes not. The end result?

The gum chewing improved reaction times by 7 percent!

Another study,2 this one out of Great Britain, divided 38 people into two groups – one chewed gum, the other didn’t. Both groups listened to a list of numbers from one to nine read aloud in what seemed like random order and were told to look for a pattern.

After listening, participants were scored on how accurately and quickly they were able to discover a pattern.

The gum chewers had quicker reaction times and more accurate results than those whose mouths were empty. This was especially true toward the end of the task. “Interestingly, participants who didn’t chew gum performed slightly better at the beginning of the task but were overtaken by the end,” explains Kate Morgan, of Cardiff University, one of the study authors. “This suggests that chewing gum helps us focus on tasks that require continuous monitoring over a longer amount of time.”

How Does Gum Activate Your Brain?

In the Japanese study, scans revealed more activity in eight different areas of the brain, including those that control executive and motor functions. The researchers theorize the boost in brainpower could be because chewing gum stimulates certain regions of your brain, including the premotor cortex.

Stimulating the premotor cortex appears to prepare your brain for movement and reaction, both of which contribute to better motor performance.

Warning: Not All Gums Are Created Equally

One unfortunate thing about the research on gum chewing is that much of it was done with sugarless sticks – which inevitably contains artificial sweeteners that we know have dangerous long-term side effects. For example, many sugarless gums contain Aspartame, an artificial sweetener that has been associated with a wide array of side effects you definitely want to avoid.

What’s worse, some studies – such as one published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition3 – seem to suggest Aspartame could actually increase appetite at future meals. None of this is what you want, and runs contrary to the whole purpose of chewing gum for weight loss. So any gum with Aspartame is out… (Also be sure to avoid any sorbitol-based gum, since it can cause bloating and have a strong laxative effect.)

The best alternative is gum sweetened with a naturally-derived, low-calorie sugar substitute called xylitol – which tastes great and is actually good for your teeth. I’ve personally found the brands Spry and Xyla to be excellent. Find them at any health food store, or online at Amazon.com.

Speaking of which… I’m running out to buy some more gum. With four kids, I could use all the brainpower I can get! I think I’ll go with cinnamon flavor, which helps increase my focus and attention to tackle my busy day. What’s your favorite flavor?

Steve Sisskind, M.D.

Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.

As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.

Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?

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References:

1. Hirano Y, Obata T, Takahashi H, et al. Effects of chewing on cognitive processing speed. Brain Cogn. 2013;81(3):376-381. PMID: 23375117.

2. Morgan K, Johnson AJ, Miles C. Chewing gum moderates the vigilance decrement. Br J Psychol. In press.

3. Anne Raben, et al. Sucrose Compared With Artificial Sweeteners: Different Effects of Ad Libitum Food Intake and Body Weight After 10 wk of Supplementation in Overweight Subjects American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” October 2002 vol. 76 no. 4 721-729

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18 comments

  1. I’m addicted to nicotine gum, although the good news is I don’t smoke any more, iv been chewing it for 10 years now 15 x a day, what is your opinion on this, id be interested to know.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Jayne,

      Thank you for posting! Congratulations on kicking the habit! I understand how difficult it can be to try something new and forget old bad habits. That said, if you would like to cut back on your consumption of gum, I suggest eating one piece less per day. Wean yourself off gently and substitute with regular gum instead. Keep in mind this change may not happen overnight and learn to be patient with yourself. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  2. Very interesting! I took an art class way back in 1964 when I was in high school. The art teacher would pass out gum because she said it would relax us and improve our concentration on the subject.

  3. Stephanie Marcus

    I bought large containers of the gums you suggested, but threw all of it away after learning xylitol can quickly kill a dog. People are careless and throw it away where a dog can pick it up and then, terrible heartbreak for the owners.

    How about chewing gum with real sugar?
    Isn’t there any gum with Stevia or something else not harmful to animals? I may just have to remain stupid 🙁

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thank you for posting your concerns! I completely understand your frustration as I too am an animal lover and love my dogs very much. That said, we must always learn to be conscientious in our daily dealings which include disposing of our trash properly. Make it a healthy day!

  4. please let your audience know that xylitol causes convulsions, seizures and liver damage in dogs and is not on label of anything with xylitol in it!!!!!

  5. How about PUR named gum??

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Nyrna,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! I have heard of the Pur gum company but have not been able to go over their product line, yet. However, if you have been using it and find it suited to your taste, then by all means. Just be sure to take a close look at the label! Hope this helps!

  6. Hi Dr,
    I heard gums increase bad breath if constantly chewed. And per your research what’s the best way to eliminate bad breath? Thanks

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Alexy,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! The best way to avoid or eliminate bad breath would always be good oral care. I do encourage you to see your dentist regularly and practice good oral hygiene not just to avoid bad breath, but for overall good health. As for your concern about gums, I cannot say for certain if chewing gum for a given time will give you bad breath as other factors such as the kind of sugar it has, the flavorings used or one’s current oral health all have a small part to play. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

    • Brush your teeth after every meal and also before going to bed, make a mouth wash with 1/2 teaspoon of natural salt in warm water.

      Change gum too..don’t chew on the same stick of gum for hours..once flavor gone..throw out!

      Get a brand new improved non-expensive Tooth Paste that is completely natural & also excellent for your oral health..

  7. Thank you, Dr. Steve, I have tried several gums that don’t have sugar or aspartame in them and they were just yucky. I’m going to try to find the two that you named and see if they are better.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Lucy,

      Thank you for writing in and for posting! I do hope you find them in your area. Let me know how it goes! Have a healthy day!

  8. In the Middle East and some Mediterranean countries they chew a resin with no flavor and not sugar on it. it does help… may be they can import here ?

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi CPMT,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! That is indeed interesting and does warrant a deeper study. I’ll do my very best to find out more about this resin and let you know of the results here. Have a healthy day!

      • Hi just reading this thread and wondering about the resin chew research?

      • Dr. Steve Sisskind

        Hi Moargenn,

        Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! I am not overly familiar with the research you mentioned and will have to delve deeper into it. However, I do know that chewing gum helps us stay focused and sharper. Make it a healthy day!

  9. YOU FORGOT THA CANCER CAUSING saccharine…. as bad or worse than aspartame. My father and a freind of my father’s died of cancer (pancreatic, and…)

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