Effects of chewing gum on your memory

Chewing gum is ancient.  Thousands of years ago, the Greeks chewed mastiche while the Mayans and Aztecs chewed chicle to satisfy quench and hunger.  North American Indians masticated spruce tress resin, which they passed on to European settlers.

Up to this day, some people chew gum to clean teeth and freshen breath.  Some chew to curb their appetite and lose weight.  Some also chew in lieu of smoking cigarettes.  Or, maybe some chew because they are bored or . . . just because they want to.

Gum chewing in public are viewed by others as lack of class, especially if you make sounds and blow-pop bubbles.  If you talk to someone while chewing gum, you may be regarded as someone rude.  While it kills a good first impression, a gum chewer may sometimes be viewed as a slacker.

She wasn’t actually chewing gum but her demeanor was very much that of a gum chewer.  Gail Honeyman

This brings me back to the time when I took my first California driving test…

It was one late afternoon and DMV was about to close. I think I was the last customer. I don’t usually chew gum but I did anyway only because I was stress-hungry and that was the only thing my husband could get for me.

To make the story short, that Pasadena DMV guy named Bob (yes, I wrote it!) must have made an impression that I was a rude slacker so his attitude towards me was VERY unfavorable. He was so rude that when I was not able to immediately turn right back to the DMV parking lot, he suddenly pulled my hand brake. Also, throughout our driving course up to the time he forcefully stopped me, he even repeatedly said that I don’t know how to drive. I should’ve reported him at once but the office was closing and I was too tired and tensed to make a move.

Going back to gum chewing, yes, I am not a fan of that.  If I do it in public (with the exception of my DMV incident), I felt kinda like an unprofessional masticating goat . . . (LOL) . . . until I learned of this . . .

Chewing gum and your memory

A number of curious experiments on cognitive effects of gum chewing served to answer the question below…

Is it true that chewing gum helps you remember?

The answer is “nearly” a yes, chewing gum helps you remember and most neuroscientists share the same findings.  The simplest thing of chewing gum can improve memory because, just like any physical activity, it can:

  • increase heart rate
  • increase blood pressure
  • increase cortisol levels
  • increase cerebral blood flow

…thereby, making the brain more active and alert.

Lucy Wilkinson, Andrew Scholey and Keith Wesnes of University of Northumbria at Newcastle, England, studied 75 healthy adult participants.  They were randomly assigned to either chewing sugar-free Wrigley’s Extra Spearmint, pretend-chewing and no chewing at all.  Their cognitive analysis showed that actual gum chewing can improve both *working memory* and *episodic memory* as compared with the other two activities.

Richard Stephens and Richard J. Tunney argued that there is improved cognitive performance with gum-chewing because of glucose going up the brain.  Just like any other motor function, as also reported by numerous neuroscientists, the act of chewing gum elevates both heart rate and blood pressure, cortisol levels and cerebral blood flow, thereby causing arousal and alertness.  Both also concluded that, with the exception of the *executive function*, not only does chewing gum enhances working memory and long-term episodic memory, but it also improves language-based attention and perceptual processing speed.

Serge Onyper, associate professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University, New York, experimented on almost 100 students.  He found out that those who chewed gum 5 minutes before cognitive testing did better than those who did not.  But he also noted that “mastication-induced arousal” only lasted for about 20 minutes.

Andrew Smith of Cardiff University, United Kingdom, with his 133 volunteers, reported greater alertness and more positive mood.  Gum chewers showed decreased levels of stress such that they are able to complete more academic tasks.

But TMJ sufferers, be warned…

Failed tests

There are also reports that indicate no correlation between gum-chewing and memory.

In a re-examination conducted by Christopher Miles and Andrew J. Johnson of Cardiff University, United Kingdom,

So, there you have it . . . for now . . . until the next experiment results…

Chewing Gum Trivia

For your optional memory exercise, below are some names tied to the chewing gum industry.  Should you decide not to skip this, go ahead and chew a sugar-free gum to maybe enhance you memory.

  • John B. Curtis – developed his State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum
  • Thomas Adams – produced his Adams New York Chewing Gum, which gave rise to the modern chewing gum industry
  • Frank Fleer and Henry Fleer – turned their chicle into Chiclets
  • William Wrigley, Jr. – sold his Juicy Fruit and Wrigley’s Spearmint
  • Walter Diemer – re-concocted Fleer’s chicle gum formula by accident and founded a non-sticky bubble gum formula called Dubble Bubble.

Whatever you say, old boy, just look after yourself.  And whatever you do, don’t swallow the gum!  Anthony Horowitz quote, Skeleton Key

As I was reading through gum blogs and articles, a memory of me chewing multiple gums came back.  I remember swallowing a dollop of thick…  I wonder if that had any effect and may have answer my digestive problems…  Hmmm…

So health buffs said swallowing a piece of gum is safe as it is passed out of your body.  But what about multiple gums that thickened after some time and a kid swallowed it?

References:

  • Wilkinson L, Scholey A, Wesnes K (2002) Chewing gum selectively improves aspects of memory in healthy volunteers. Appetite 38, 235-236.
  • Stephen R, Tunney RJ (2004, Oct) Role of glucose in chewing gum-related facilitation of cognitive functions. Appetite Volume 43, Issue 2, pp. 211-213.
  • S. V. Onyper, T. L. Carr, J. S. Farrar and B. R. Floyd, “Cognitive Advantages of Chewing Gum. Now You See Them, Now You Don’t,” Appetite, Vol. 57, No. 2, 2011, pp. 321-328.
  • C. Miles, A. J. Johnson (2007), Chewing gum and context-dependent memory effects: A re-examination, Appetite Volume 48, Issue 2, pp. 154-158.
  • A. Smith, Effects of chewing gum on cognitive function, mood and physiology in stressed and non-stressed volunteers, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20132649

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