Chews Wisely: Gum's Good News
Recent research on the favorable (and flavorable!) benefits of chewing gum may thrill your child but aggravate teachers and school custodians. After all, standard "no gum" policies in the classroom tend to result in more tidy, goo-free carpets and floors.
But some educators are re-examining the gum policy. Why?
Benefits cognitive abilities
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine studied eighth grade math students and found gum chewers scored 3 percent better on standardized math tests and achieved better final grades (Wrigley Science Institute, 2009).
Chewing gum appears to increase alertness, focus and concentration, and in the cognitive improvement section of his book 101 Optimal Life Foods (Bantam, 2010), nutritionist David Grotto recommends chewing gum between meals and snacks.
More praise for the yummy stuff resulted from brain researcher Todd Parrish of Northwestern University in 2009, when he examined functional magnetic resonance images of gum chewers and found increased activity in areas of the brain associated with memory and emotional responses.
Reduces ear infections
Ear infections are one of the most common childhood illnesses, and a meta-analysis published in November 2011 in the Cochrane Library, a database of health-related evidence, suggests a new preventive measure.
A University of Toronto team analyzed several studies of 3,100 healthy children at day care centers and discovered children chewing xylitol gum (xylitol is a natural form of sugar) were 25 percent less likely to develop acute ear infections.
Since participating kids chewed the gum up to five times a day, it's not clear whether smaller amounts would have the same effect. Also, xylitol can cause abdominal discomfort, so even though it may be helpful, the topic warrants further research.
You chews, you lose? Looks like it. Gum may also help prevent weight gain. Paula Geiselman and her research team at Louisiana State University found chewing gum was associated with decreased feelings of hunger and cravings for sweets (Wrigley Science Institute, 2009).
Researchers concluded that even small changes in caloric intake could have a significant impact in the long term and suggest chewing sugar-free gum as an easy, practical tool to help manage snack intake and reduce sweet snack cravings.
Improves dental health
Even people in the business of preventing tooth decay sing the praises of gum. Sugarless, that is. The American Dental Association reports that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals can help prevent cavities. The ADA also states on its website: "In the future, look for chewing gum that delivers a variety of therapeutic agents that could provide additional benefits to those provided by the ability of gum to mechanically stimulate saliva flow. For instance, some gum might contain active agents that could enhance the gum's ability to remineralize teeth and reduce decay, or enable gum to help reduce plaque and gingivitis."
There also is evidence that gum reduces symptoms of acid reflux. This is surely good news for parents, teachers and school administrators who struggle with heartburn and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflex disease. And the custodians.
With these potential learning and health benefits, don't be surprised if your child's school modifies its gum policy, begins to offer gum as a reward for good behavior or encourages chewing in math class. n
Michele Ranard has two children and a master's in counseling.
Before Juicy Fruit, Bubblicious or the sticky debate in schools (um, let's face it, when students don't chew gum quietly or bullies smash it in someone's hair, it's a learning distraction and not an enhancement), our distant ancestors saw the value of chewing resins and latex secretions from plants. Also, the color of the first successful bubblegum was pink because it was the only color the inventor had left, according to the International Chewing Gum Association. Who knew? Learn more fun facts about gum at www.gumassociation.org.