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?
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?
I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.
I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!
Join the Whole Body Club
Dr. Steve Sisskind is on a mission to help you achieve amazing health and vitality through the power of nutrition. Sign up to get access to his valuable health tips, recipes, videos, and discounts for FREE!
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