Chewing Gum… Bursting the Bubble

Risa Groux, CN
 | Published: 
November 6, 2018

In 1848, John Curtis developed the first commercial chewing gum made from spruce tree.  He boiled resin, cut them into strips and coated them in cornstarch to prevent them from sticking together.  He then went on to create the first gum factory in Portland, Maine.  Other manufacturers joined the industry and chewing gum was then made from other ingredients. Chicle from Mexico and South American became the main ingredient until replaced with synthetic ingredients in the mid 1990’s.

There are over 100 types of gum on the market today.  Ranging from a vast array of flavors, and found in forms such as lollipops, bubble, ribbons, balls, tube, center-filled, functional (with vitamins), dental hygiene, medicated, energy, and nicotine gum.  They all use some kind of sweetener whether it be natural or artificial sugars. Most commercial gum contain flavoring, preservatives, and food coloring.

Here are some facts:

  1. Humans are the only animals on earth who chew gum.
  2. The average person chews over 300 sticks of gum each year.
  3. Singapore banned chewing gum twenty years ago due to vandalism on their metro trains using gum.
  4. Swallowed gum can go through the digestive tract in a day or two after it’s eaten.

In the 1950’s the dental association educated the public of the dental caries associated with chewing sugary gum which lead to the creation of sugarless gum.  That’s when the real trouble began.  Gum’s main ingredient is a gum base which can be natural or synthetic. The sugars are absorbed by the body and the indigestible gum base (resin) is passed along the digestive tract and eliminated with a bowel movement.  So, is chewing gum bad for us? Let’s dive in and look at the what it’s made of and the effects.

Artificial Sweeteners
We all know that sugary gum causes tooth decay by slowly damaging tooth enamel from exposure to sugar while chewing.  If that is the case then the remedy seems simple enough, chew sugarless or sugar-free gum.  When the manufacturer removes the sugar, they replace it with artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols.  The most common forms of artificial sweeteners used in gum manufacturing are aspartame (Sweet N Low) and sucralose (Splenda).  First off, artificial sweeteners help you gain weight by stimulating your appetite and fat storage and increasing carbohydrate cravings.  In addition, artificial sweeteners are linked with anemia, male infertility, enlarged kidneys, spontaneous abortions, and distortions in biochemistry.

Sugar Alcohols
Xylitol and sorbitol are more of a natural sweetener but they are still processed and can cause lots of gastric upset for those who are sensitive or when over consumed.  Side effects like bloating, gas, cramping, and diarrhea are very common.

Titanium Dioxide
Along with artificial sweeteners, most gums contain titanium dioxide, a whitening agent which severely impacts gut health, weakens the intestinal barrier, slows down metabolism, triggers inflammation, and blocks nutrient absorption of iron, zinc, and fatty acids. If there is one ingredient to absolutely say no to, it’s this one.

Another common ingredient in gum are emulsifiers used to prevent it sticking to your teeth and to retain flavor.   These emulsifiers throw off the balance in the gut flora.  There have been studies showing emulsifiers can contribute to colon cancer.  Frequent gum chewing can cause stomach irritation, aches, aggravated gastritis, and even gastric ulcers.

Another chemical commonly found in gum is BHT Butylated Hydroxytoluene) which has been linked to liver and kidney damage, hyperactivity in children, and may be carcinogenic.

Heavy Metals
Heavy metals such as mercury can do a lot of damage to the body, particularly to blood, urinary tract, nerves and the brain.  If there are mercury fillings and gum chewing, it may cause a release of mercury into the system.

Digestive Enzymes
The beginning of digestion starts in the mouth.  The action of chewing creates salivary enzymes that begin to break down the food you are eating.  The body then signals the stomach that food is coming so in preparation it produces Hydrochloric Acid (HCL), our main digestive enzyme.  When chewing gum instead of food, the same process occurs but no food is sent down so there is a build-up of acid in the stomach.  If there is chronic gum chewing, this excessive acid could lead to stomach ulcers.

Studies have shown that children and adolescents suffering from migraines and tension headaches were alleviated when gum was removed entirely.  There is a possible association from artificial sweeteners and TMJ which are both related to gum.

Chronically chewing gum can cause jaw muscle imbalance and the painful condition of TMJ.  This joint disorder can cause headaches, earaches and toothaches over time.

Gum made with nicotine is a handy and popular stepping stone to quitting smoking.  It is intended to wean from an addiction to nicotine and its usage it recommended for no more than six months.  Most nicotine gums contain food dyes, artificial sweeteners, aluminum, titanium dioxide, corn starch, and sugar alcohols.  In addition to the side effects of traditional gum, they also warn against bleeding gums, burping, coughs, gingivitis, headaches, irritated or inflamed tongue, light headedness, jaw ache, mouth or throat soreness, nausea, and unusual taste in the mouth.

If you can’t kick the habit yet and are looking for a healthier gum to chew without all the chemicals, you are in luck.  There are a few on the market but they all contain some form of sweetener.  I would recommend the following brands but chewing on an occasional basis.

  1. Train Gum
  2. Chicza Organic Rainforest Gum
  3. Simply Gum

So rather than asking if gum is bad for us, I like to ask the question, is it good for us?  It contains absolutely no nutritional benefits so that is why I personally haven’t had chewing gum of any kind in five years and do not plan on starting any time soon.  It’s a personal decision so now that you have the knowledge, do what is best for you.

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