Chewing gum: A way to relieve stress?

by Ashley Cummings on November 13, 2012

Image courtesy of Idea go/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Deadlines, relationships, money, exams, family —  whatever the source, everyone experiences stress at some point in their life. Whether the source is from work, school, or life in general, it does not feel good. Before you let the stress get out of control, grab a piece of chewing gum — any flavor of your choice — it may help reduce short-term stress.

Gum Chewing and Stress

A study in the journal, Stress and Health, analyzed a total of 2,248 gum chewers and non-chewers and measured a variety of indicators related to chewing gum, stress and health. Results show that chewers were significantly more likely than non-chewers to report:

  • less extreme stress at both work and in life
  • lower levels of feeling depressed
  • lower levels of blood pressure and cholesterol

In another study in the journal, Appetite, 72 college students were assigned to sugar-free gum chewing (two groups: chewing more than 40 pieces or less than 40 pieces over the testing period) or non-gum chewing groups for two weeks.

Participants were required to fill out a survey both before and after the testing that measured fatigue, ability to complete academic work, stress, and anxiety and depression. Gum chewers had to chew on at least two sticks of sugar-free gum for 20 minutes each day, as well as keep a chewing diary, recording how often and how long they had gum.

Results showed that the more gum the students chewed, the lower the levels of stress they reported. Also, the gum groups reported being able to accomplish more schoolwork. Only the group that chewed less than 40 pieces over the two weeks reported significantly lower levels of depression compared to the non-chewing group. No significant effects were reported for tiredness or anxiety.

Possible Reasons for Association

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Dating back to 1939, a study in the journal, Science, reported that chewing was believed to relieve stress by  letting go of excess energy and tension through muscle contraction.

More recently, in 2002 the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation explained that muscle contraction from chewing is a form of exercise, and may have effects on the autonomic nervous system. Chewing stimulates the vagus nerve in the brain, which acts to lower heart rate, and may in turn increase feeling relaxed.

The Takeaway

The next time you’re feeling stressed while preparing for a fast approaching deadline, or in conflict with another person, start chewing on some gum. It’s accessible, inexpensive and may help calm your nerves.

 

Sources:

Hollingworth, H. L. (1939). Chewing as a technique of relaxation. Science, 90(2339), 385-387.

Shiba, Y., Nitta, E., Hirono, C., Sugita, M. & Iwassa, Y. (2002). Evaluation of mastication-induced change in sympatho-vagal balance through spectral analysis of heart rate variability. Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, 29(10), 956-960.

Smith, A.P. (2009). Chewing gum, stress and health. Stress and Health, 25, 445-451. DOI: 10.1002/smi.1272

Smith, A.P. & Woods, M. (2012). Effects of chewing gum on the stress and work of university students. Appetite, 58, 1037-1040. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2012.02.054

Ariana November 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Interesting to see studies on the causality of chewing gum and reduced stress and not just the correlation. Nice job tracking down the “why” of it too! Great job Ashley!

Ashley Cummings November 13, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Unfortunately, the studies only show correlation and do not prove causation. I should have been more clear in the article. Thank you for reading, Ariana!

Shara E November 16, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Do you think it might have something to do with the movement, and not particularly the chewing? There’s a phrase I try and remember when I’m upset: “If you don’t like where you’re at, move.” i.e. if i’m really upset, the best course of action for me is to take a walk or what have you. Maybe chewing is a smaller proxy movement for bigger motion?

Brian November 20, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Is there a particular reason why twenty minutes was chosen? Is it implied that 20 minutes is how long we should chew gum to relieve stress/BP? I liked that you cited articles in journals from different generations to add credibility. Splendid job!

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