If you chew gum, it’s probably one of the last things you’d think about in terms of your health, but there are actually some upsides and downsides to using gum that go beyond just busting bad breath or getting it stuck on the bottom of your shoe.
The American Dental Association actually approves sugar-free gums because they increase the flow of saliva, thereby reducing plaque acid, strengthening the teeth and reducing tooth decay. Research has also found that the act of chewing gum can help improve memory and focus and reduce stress .
But there are also some potential issues with gum that you should be aware of. One small scale study found an association between gum chewing and headaches , likely because of the tension chewing creates in your jaw.
Most gums are also sweetened using either sugar or sugar-free substitutes made with with sugar alcohols like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and maltitol. You know that sugar is bad for you but alternative sweeteners aren’t always the best either. Sugar alcohols are poorly absorbed, so they can cause digestive issues in many people like bloating, gas, and diarrhea in some people. A medical case study even described two patients who completely resolved their digestive symptoms after quitting their pack-a-day gum chewing.
While there are natural and organic chewing gum brands available now, most traditional gum you’ll find in the supermarket contains additives and preservatives. Some of these are considered harmful when ingested, like BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and titanium dioxide.
Eliminating chewing gum (while still making sure to keep your dental hygiene on point) is one of the best ways to avoid these potential problems, especially if you’re prone to headaches and digestive issues. If you’re going to chew gum, look for brands that don’t contain added chemicals or dyes and have ingredients you recognize.
Dr. Robin Berzin is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin completed medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.