Start exercising. Stop smoking. Get more rest. Eat less sweets, salt, and saturated fat. Drink less alcohol. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Drink more water. These are all things that can lead to a healthier you. The bad news is that they’re not so easy to do and some of them border on downright impossible. But there are simpler lifestyle choices that one can make that can lead to better health. The simple act of chewing gum has been shown to have many beneficial effects on both the body and mind, requiring a mere fraction of the time, money, effort and commitment of more radical lifestyle changes.
Gum has positive effects on many aspects of both physical and mental health, but let’s start at the source: oral health. Gum, along with brushing and flossing your teeth of course, is an important part of optimal oral health. Primarily, chewing gum stimulates saliva production, our body’s best natural defense against tooth and enamel decay. Saliva helps break down and wash away food particles, remove harmful acids, and kill bacteria. A dry mouth is likely an unhealthy one, so anything that stimulates our natural saliva production will lead to less cavities and be of tremendous benefit to overall oral health. The American Dental Association (ADA) even recommends chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes following a meal to help prevent tooth decay and to look for the ADA seal of approval on whatever brand of gum you are considering buying. Additionally, some chewing gums contain a compound called xylitol, a sugar alcohol that can have antibacterial effects and improve oral health as well. And of course, chewing gum can lead to better breath not only because it covers up bad odors with its fruity or mint flavor, but also helps kill the very bacteria that cause bad breath in the first place. Oral health is often a good indicator of overall health, so if chewing gum leads to better oral health then it leads to better health.
But chewing gum is healthy for more than just your mouth, it can actually be very helpful when it comes to proper digestion. Chewing gum after a meal can reduce acid reflux, a problem many Americans struggle with. As mentioned before, chewing gum stimulates saliva production, which means the chewer ends up swallowing more saliva. This flow of saliva down the esophagus helps keep acid in the stomach where it belongs, instead of creeping up the esophagus causing acid reflux. And the more acid and saliva in the stomach, the better digested the food in there will be, leading to potentially better nutrient absorption and less indigestion. Chewing gum also can stimulate natural production of digestive juices in the stomach because the act of chewing tricks your brain into thinking you’re eating.
So we’ve seen that chewing gum can have great physical health benefits, but what about mental ones? The good news about gum continues, because many studies have found that chewing gum can have a pronounced positive effect on mental performance and memory. Chewing gum has been shown to improve performance on all sorts of cognitive tasks, from memory tasks to logic tests and everything in between. It has been shown to increase alertness, decrease sleepiness, increase heart rate, and elevate mood. It seems then that chewing gum simply makes your brain work better. It is especially relevant when you consider that chewing gum has no negative side effects, only positive ones. It may be at least as effective as caffeine in boosting short-term feelings of wakefulness and attentiveness. The one downside to chewing gum’s boost on mental performance is that it is short-lived. Most studies have found that the mental boost achieved by chewing gum only lasts about 20 minutes. So whatever cognitive task you’re engaging in, save the gum chewing for the hardest part and enjoy the 20 or so minutes of increased mental performance. Gum can even help you fight cravings for food, which could help with weight loss. Next time you’re craving a sugary sweet, try chewing a piece of gum and see if that scratches your itch. If it does, you’ve just saved yourself hundreds of empty calories and now get to enjoy all the body/mind benefits of chewing gum.
They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, which seems rather obvious, but is still somehow quite a popular colloquialism. If you’re not ready to undertake major lifestyle changes relating to diet and/or exercise, maybe just start by chewing more gum. The physical and mental health benefits are surprisingly quite far-reaching, including everything from better oral health, to better digestion, to better mental performance. It is important to keep in mind that the gum you’re chewing should be sugar free. Chewing gum with sugar will nullify many of these beneficial health effects, so stick to sugarless. But beyond that, choose your favorite flavor and get to chewing. A cleaner, whiter, better-smelling mouth, less acid reflux, a more effective stomach, and a higher functioning brain are the benefits you can expect to receive from the simple and innocuous act of chewing a piece of gum.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube
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