Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference. In my personal case, it was chewing gum.
Now there are a lot of reasons why we chew gum, the obvious being fresh breath, but other popular reasons are to manage hunger and to distract you from various cravings and vices. I most certainly can vouch for the use of gum to manage hunger. This was not my proudest moments in time, but if I had not been through it, then I wouldn’t be here sharing my experience with you.
Much like many young girls I wanted to look my best, which in my mind meant to be as thin as possible (thank God I have graduated on from that thinking, only looking to be strong and healthy). So one of my favorite tactics for quelling hunger was to chew gum. I started chewing about 7 pieces a day, throwing one in as soon as I started to feel the need to eat. While this worked relatively well for stopping hunger pains, something much worse took its place… actual stomach pains and bloating. This started to become a regular state of existence for me, sharp aches and chronic bloating that seemed to be an apparent mystery to me.
It was not until I started reading articles about artificial sugar and chewing gum, that I made the connection. Chewing Gum causes health issues? I chewed a piece of gum and BAMM stomach pains and bloating. Some detective I was at the time 🙂 So I began to delve into the research on chewing gum and its health effects. Not surprisingly, my symptoms were not unsubstantiated. So while I am not here to tell you to swear off gum all together, I want to you to see how it is actually affecting your health, and how you can choose MUCH healthier options if gum still remains an integral part of your existence.
One more thing. While I know we all think of gum as a non-entity in the realm of things we ingest, this little thing when eaten daily, often multiple times a day, adds up. It is called total toxic load. Something when consumed in isolation once in awhile causes relatively little to no harm, but when taken consistently and in combination to other toxic exposures it rapidly increases its toxic effect. Therefore, it is very important to look at those little things that we just happen to be doing everyday.
So we were really happy when they took sugar out of most gums, because chewing on sugar all day most certainly is going to lead you straight to an appointment with your dentist for a good tooth drilling. Age old fact, sugar leads to cavities, and we most certainly do not want cavities. Secondly, the gum containing sugar most always also contains corn syrup, which together in combination does a number on your blood sugar. This nasty combination sets you up for diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Side note: I am not saying the small content of sugar in gum directly causes obesity, but its effects on your blood sugar and chemistry does.
As a replacement for the sugar they went with the ole standby, artificial sugar. Now I am not sure how much you know about artificial sugar, but I am going to tell you that it is NOT better for your health than sugar. I actually might choose the real sugar over artificial sugar, especially if the artificial sugar is Aspartame, the number one type of artificial sugar used in chewing gum.
Aspartame has the leading number of official complaints made to the FDA than any other food or additive combined. We are talking over 10,000 complaints by 2010, sure to still be growing. Two-thirds of the complaints are neurological and one-third are gastrointestinal (just like me!).
While there are many reasons why aspartame is a toxin, let’s take a rather quick view of the main reasons.
Aspartame is a known excitotoxin, literally exciting your cells to a state of death. Excitotoxins can also cause a loss of brain synapses and connecting fibers. A review conducted in 2008 by scientists from the University of Pretoria and the University of Limpopo found that consuming a lot of aspartame may inhibit the ability of enzymes in your brain to function normally, and may lead to neurodegeneration. No good.
Secondly, aspartame breaks down to formaldehyde, a truly toxic substance and our favorite embalming fluid.
Aspartame also increases dopamine, which can lead to depression.
Other health effects have been documented as follows:
Artificial Sugar and Weight Loss?
Thinking it’s helping you to loose weight? It actually is doing the very opposite in the long run. All artificial sugars, including aspartame now show in studies to stimulate your appetite by ruining your body’s ability to count calories, thus boosting your inclination to overindulge, leading to weight gain, not weight loss. One study even showed that diet soda doubled your chances of becoming obese by increasing the rate of metabolic syndrome.
The Act of Chewing
The constant chewing on gum has structural implications as well, due to the overuse of the cartilage in the jaw and the facial muscles. The overuse can not only lead to pain and damage to the cartilage, but also causes stress on the muscles which can lead to intermittent headaches. If you are a current TMJ sufferer, then you are most certainly going to want to think twice. Studies show chewing gum exasperate the condition.
And lets be honest, we can all relate to the tired jaw after a long day of gum chewing.
Other Fun Gum Ingredients
If Aspartame was not enough, chewing gum contains a list of ingredients that also are on our list of “What does that mean?”
Here is the ingredient list from one of our favorite sugar-free gums:
- Sorbitol – another favorite of our artificial sugars that is known to cause diarrhea, gas, abdominal pain, and aggravate IBS.
- Natural and Artificial Flavors – now technically this is their way of covering proprietary information, but the FDA does allow the term to cover a host of ingredients, one of the main ones being MSG. MSG is that nasty exictotoxin that is found in Chinese food. MSG is a HUGE no no. We don’t want our brains turning to mush.
- Soy Lecithin – this is a popular fatty acid that is often extracted with Hexane (yes, the substance that makes of a good portion of gasoline). Plus, being a soy product it is Genetically Modified.
- Acesulfame K and Sucralose – two other artificial sweeteners that contain inconclusive evidence on whether they have carcinogenic effects.
- Colors – artificial colors now have substantial evidence showing that they can contribute to behavioral disorders such as ADD. In fact, the British Food Standards Agency has advised parents to consider eliminating artificial food colors from the diet, and the European Union has called for eliminating six colors or listing on the label the warning that “[the color] may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
- BHT – used as a preservative, studies with laboratory animals indicate that BHT may exert both detrimental and beneficial effects. For example, BHT ameliorates the toxicity and carcinogenicity of several chemical and physical agents, yet potentiates the toxicity and carcinogenicity of others. Furthermore, while BHT may exert a positive effect on life span, it exerts a negative effect on the lungs, kidneys, myocardial cells, liver metabolism of lipids, and clotting factors, and is a potential behavioral and developmental teratogen.
Chewing Gum causes health issues. We have a mixed bag of neurological and gastrointestinal damage, the potential to increase our chances of weight gain, ADD, depression and organ stress. Most certainly NOT what we are looking for when we look for a bit of fresh breath relief.
We do not live in a perfect world, and we are certainly not perfect, but we can choose to be wise in regards to the information we have so that we can make a better choice. Therefore, look to other options to satisfy that craving. And yes, there ARE other good options 🙂
Other options out there:
Xylitol Gum – Is it really healthier?
Xylitol is a sweetener that claims to be beneficial to the body. The company claim is that it’s not an artificial sweetener, but an all-natural sugar alcohol found in many fruits and vegetables and produced in small amounts by the human body, but the truth is that that it is also made from corn cobs and birch bark and must be synthesized – not that natural afterall . On the plus side, Xylitol can actually “starve” the negative micro-organisms that damage teeth, allowing the teeth to re-mineralize faster. Not to mention, it does not have an effect on blood sugar levels, so they claim that it is a safe alternative for diabetics, and those looking to maintain a healthy weight.
Xylitol gum also has eliminated all the other nasty “other” ingredients other than soy lecithin, but just like Aspartame is known to cause severe gastrointestinal disturbances, making this not necessarily a better choice. Sorry Whole Foods, we are not falling for this one.
If you also want to minimize the risks from the process of chewing, you can consider using the occasional organic peppermint. I personally use St. Claire’s brand which uses molasses, cane juice and peppermint essential oil. So this DOES contain sugar, but it is free of any other additives and chemicals.
Therefore, it is not perfect, so make sure to consume occasionally.
Synthetic Food Colors and Neurobehavioral Hazards: The View from Environmental Health Research