How Does Chewing Gum Affect Your Digestive System?

Following the practices of ancient Greeks, Mayans, Native Americans, and others in chewing natural fibers, modern chewing gum was first patented in the 1800s and has graced store shelves ever since.

The American chewing gum market is a $5 billion industry and is only expected to grow. With the consistent and high intake of chewing gum in many people’s diets, some are curious about the positive and negative effects on the digestive tract.

Beneficial effects of chewing gum on the digestive tract

Delving into the realm of digestive health, research has increasingly illuminated the surprising benefits that chewing gum can offer to the intricate workings of the gastrointestinal system.

Improves oral health

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used in many chewing gums that reduces cavity formation by reducing the total count of bacteria in saliva, especially the cavity-promoting bacteria Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans).

One study found xylitol improved bad breath or halitosis by helping to decrease β-glucosidases, salivary enzymes responsible for aromatic release.

Improves saliva production

Gum requires increased chewing action which helps to stimulate saliva production. This is a helpful tool to alleviate discomfort for those with medication or disease-induced dry mouth.

Improved saliva production also helps wash away food material from teeth, reducing the material available for bacterial fermentation, which also reduces cavity formation.

Enhances GI motility and promotes GI surgery recovery

Those who receive intestinal surgery are at an increased risk for ileus, an inability for the intestines to contract normally which may lead to a potentially life-threatening intestinal blockage.

A meta-analysis of studies found that chewing gum increases intestinal transit or motility and is a useful tool to prevent colorectal surgery complications and may even reduce hospital stay length. One randomized, controlled study conducted years later supports this conclusion. It found that colon and rectum resection patients who chewed gum along with their post-surgery treatment plan were hungrier sooner and passed gas and their first bowel movement significantly faster than those not chewing gum.

Research suggests that chewing gum may even promote bowel function earlier in women post-caesarean section.

May help decrease anxiety and stress-induced GI symptoms

The gut-brain axis is the connection between the digestive tract and the brain and explains the relationship between emotional triggers such as stress and anxiety and digestive discomfort. Mastication, or chewing, is increased in those who chew gum. The action of chewing is considered a helpful stress-coping mechanism and may also contribute to reduced feelings of stress-induced digestive symptoms.

Chewing gum concerns

As we uncover the nuanced effects of chewing gum on digestive health, it's crucial to navigate potential concerns and considerations surrounding its consumption.

May promote bloating

Some gums contain sugar alcohols such as xylitol, erythritol, or sorbitol which are all classified as FODMAPs. Chewing multiple pieces of gum a day could contribute to diarrhea, bloating, and digestive distress, especially for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

May promote headaches

Those who are prone to headaches or migraines may need to limit chewing gum as the chewing or mastication action may be a trigger for headache onset.

May lead to intestinal blockages

Children who chew large amounts of gum and swallow it may be at an increased risk for intestinal blockage, especially when the gum clings to food remnants and creates a bezoar, a trapped undigested mass in the intestines. However, this only occurs rarely in children.

Ingredient concerns

Some gums contain concerning ingredients such as artificial sweeteners, preservatives like BHT, softeners, and vinyl acetate in the gum bases. Ideally, choose a gum brand with simple and declared ingredients that contain xylitol for cavity protection rather than added sugars that may promote cavities.

Added sugars promote cavities

Chewing gums that contain added sugars increase the potential for cavity development by increasing the food substrate in the mouth cavity-promoting bacteria like to consume. High sugar intake, whether in chewing gum or the general diet, is the single greatest risk factor for cavity development.

Key takeaways:

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