How chewing gum could help relieve anxiety

by Jennifer Bowden / 09 May, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Chewing gum anxiety

Photo/Getty Images

Jennifer Bowden looks at the research that suggests chewing gum may lower levels of anxiety and stress in healthy adults.

QUESTIONI have a generalised anxiety disorder that I manage without medication. I often crave chewing gum when I’m feeling particularly anxious. Is there any evidence that chewing gum helps with anxiety?

ANSWER: Anxiety is a normal human emotion that serves a useful purpose. But it becomes a disorder when it is experienced in greater intensity or duration than normal, leading to impairment or disability.

High levels of anxiety are a daily reality for many people. According to a study of New Zealand general medical practices, anxiety-related mental disorders are the type most commonly seen by primary carers.

They include obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorders, social and other phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, but generalised anxiety disorder is the most common.

The latter’s symptoms can include persistent worrying or anxiety about a range of events or activities out of proportion to their impact. The worry is pervasive and difficult to control and is associated with restlessness or feeling keyed up and on edge. People with the disorder can tire easily, have difficulty concentrating, have their mind go blank, feel irritable and tense and have disturbed sleep. Significant distress or impairment can be the result.

The recommended treatment for people with generalised anxiety disorder includes psychological or drug therapy or a combination of the two. Getting a firm diagnosis and discussing treatment with a doctor should be the first course of action.

One thing you won’t find among the treatment recommendations is any mention of chewing gum. Yet there is research that suggests gum chewing may lower levels of anxiety and stress in healthy adults.

In 2011, a number of studies were published investigating the links. One review concluded there was some evidence that chewing gum reduced chronic stress, although its effects on acute stress were less clear.

Cardiff University researchers did a clinical trial to see if they could shed light on gum’s effect on acute social stress. Participants, either with or without gum, attended a mock job interview. The results suggested that chewing gum helped keep anxiety in check and increased alertness.

A Japanese study looked at the effect of chewing gum on psychological status and physical and mental fatigue in healthy young adults. The participants were randomly assigned to the control group or a group who chewed gum twice a day for 14 days. At the end of the trial, the levels of state anxiety (anxiety they felt at that time) were significantly lower among the gum chewers, as were their scores of depression-dejection, fatigue and confusion. The researchers concluded regular gum chewing had an effect on the psychological status of these healthy young adults.

More findings in support of gum chewing came from a web-based survey published in 2013. In a sample of nearly 400 adults, the regular chewers had lower levels of perceived stress, anxiety and depression.

And another Japanese study, in 2016, looked at brain activity, heart rate and levels of state anxiety in a group of gum-chewing adults who were subjected to a variety of annoying sounds. They concluded that the gum reduced stress-related responses.

What possible mechanism could explain the gum-chewing relief effect? Saliva analysis shows habitual chewers have lower levels of stress indicators cortisol, alpha-amylase and secretory immunoglobulin A. These hormonal changes could, in part, account for gum lovers reporting lower levels of stress.

Although none of the studies look at the effect on people with generalised stress disorder, it’s possible chewing-gum cravings are a message from the body that you should continue to respond to.

This article was first published in the April 13, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


Bruce Springsteen’s cinematic new album heads into cowboy country
108195 2019-07-22 00:00:00Z Music

Bruce Springsteen’s cinematic new album heads into…

by James Belfield

The stars in the title of Bruce Springsteen’s 19th album aren’t just those shining down on the hardscrabble American lives that have long inhabited...

Read more
What you need to know about your vitamin D levels in winter
108187 2019-07-22 00:00:00Z Health

What you need to know about your vitamin D levels…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Vitamin D is essential for bone health, and exposure to winter sun is a good way to maintain it.

Read more
Humans aren't designed to be happy – so stop trying
108639 2019-07-22 00:00:00Z Psychology

Humans aren't designed to be happy – so stop tryin…

by Rafael Euba

Chasing the happiness dream is a very American concept, exported to the rest of the world through popular culture.

Read more
Kiwi pies filling gap in Chinese market
108684 2019-07-22 00:00:00Z Food

Kiwi pies filling gap in Chinese market

by Siobhan Downes

If you’re ever in China and find yourself hankering for a pie, one Kiwi couple has you covered.

Read more
Bill Ralston: We're in for fireworks if John Banks runs for mayor
108531 2019-07-21 00:00:00Z Politics

Bill Ralston: We're in for fireworks if John Banks…

by Bill Ralston

If John Banks joins Auckland’s mayoral race, there's a chance he could rise from the political dead.

Read more
Once were Anzacs: The epic history of Māori soldiers in WWI
108382 2019-07-21 00:00:00Z History

Once were Anzacs: The epic history of Māori soldie…

by Peter Calder

The role of Māori soldiers in World War I has long been relegated to footnotes, but a major new work by historian Monty Soutar re-examines their...

Read more
The new Lion King lacks the original's claws
108533 2019-07-21 00:00:00Z Movies

The new Lion King lacks the original's claws

by Russell Baillie

A naturalistic remake of the 1994 Disney hit cartoon musical will bring in the dough, but it just doesn't quite work.

Read more
50th moon landing anniversary: New Zealand's forgotten Nasa legend
108468 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z History

50th moon landing anniversary: New Zealand's forgo…

by Peter Griffin

Today marks 50 years since humans landed on the Moon, a feat achieved thanks to Kiwi scientist William Pickering and his team.

Read more