Risky chewing gum, gum, gum...

By Martina Watts BA(Hons) Dip ION MBANT

Chewing gum is by no means a modern past-time. Thousands of years ago, the Mayan Indians from Southern Mexico were one of the first to discover its benefits, chewing on the hardened sap of the wild Sapodilla tree to clean their teeth and relieve hunger and thirst. Other American Indians chewed on licorice and marshmallow roots, and the gum-like resin from the bark of the Spruce tree was popular as a breath sweetener. These days synthetic materials are used to replace natural gum, improving taste and texture. Common ingredients are gum bases from man-made latex, sugar or artificial sweeteners, softeners, flavourings and colourings.

Dentists say that sugar-free chewing gum can help to prevent cavities as it stimulates the production of saliva, neutralising some of the acid produced by bacteria in the mouth. But chewing gums aren't all equal. Whereas gum with sugar can be potentially damaging to teeth, gum containing a sweetener called Xylitol may prove beneficial. Made from the bark of the silver birch, Xylitol can actively reduce the amount of the Streptococcus mutans bacteria implicated in dental decay.

It is unfortunate that most chewing gums seem to contain the artificial sweetener aspartame, which has been linked to headaches, Fibromyalgia and other serious health problems. Although the aspartame PR brigade continues to insist aspartame is safe, independent research suggests it's a potential neurotoxin, which can disrupt brain function by over-stimulating and irritating nerve endings. Chewing gum manufacturer Wrigley and other large companies producing or using aspartame in their products are currently being sued in the US over its associated health risks.

If you have amassed a number of dental amalgams, it may not be in your best interest to chew gum at all. A Scandinavian study recently found that heavy gum chewers break down the amalgam in their fillings, releasing toxic mercury vapour. Researchers in Gothenburg, Sweden, discovered that heavy gum chewers had more than twice the amount of mercury in their blood, urine and breath than infrequent gum chewers. This study also found that mercury levels rose in proportion to the number of fillings in each subject. Experts warn that mercury damages the brain, central nervous system and kidneys.

From a nutritional perspective, chewing gum isn't the smartest thing to do because it can contribute to the development of stomach ulcers. It stimulates the stomach to secrete acid and the pancreas to produce digestive enzymes that aren't required as there is no food to work on, just the lining of intestinal tract. If you suffer from indigestion or acid reflux, chewing gum could make the situation worse.

However, I have to admit that chewing gum can be useful if you are in the process of giving up smoking or trying to stay awake when driving long distances. "Buzz Gum" contains both Xylitol and Guarana, a plant used by the Amazonian Indians to maintain alertness and ward off fatigue. Guarana is a natural stimulant and a handy alternative to coffee whenever you need to go that extra mile.

Martina Watts is a qualified Nutritional Therapist at the Crescent Clinic of Complementary Medicine and the Dolphin House Clinic, Brighton or visit www.thehealthbank.co.uk.

Posted October 2005 | Permanent Link

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