Chewing Gum Linked to Reduction in Stress

In what sounds like a chewing gum manufacturer’s PR dream, chewing gum has been found to reduce stress and anxiety in people who chew it. For years people have sought various ways to fight stress. Among the most common are cigarette smoking and chewing gum. But, until now, even though many of those chewing gum believed that it helped them to reduce stress, there was no scientific evidence to prove that they were right. Now there is.

In addition to relieving stress and anxiety, researchers found that people who chew gum also showed an improvement in alertness and in their ability to multitask. The study in question was presented by behavioral scientist Andrew Scholey, last year in Tokyo at the 10th International Congress of Behavioral Medicine. Dr. Andrew Scholey, a PH.D., is a professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia where the research study was performed. The intent of the study, which included some researchers from the Wrigley Science Institute, was intended to determine if and how the act of chewing gum affected mood, cortisol levels, and stress.

Cortisol is produced by the body’s adrenal gland. In times of high stress, cortisol levels in the body spike as the body goes into its “fight or flight” mode. When the body is in a relaxed state, the cortisol levels in the body decrease. This ability to measure cortisol levels in the body makes it the perfect type of marker to use in determining the amount of stress a person is experiencing. Dr. Scholey’s research determined that when a person chews gum, at least in the laboratory setting, his cortisol levels decrease.

They study involved only forty people, a relatively small number of participants from which to extrapolate results to the general population. The average age was 22 years old. The testing was done using the Defined Intensity Stressor Simulation (a.k.a. DISS) which, among other things, is a standardized methodology of measuring stress-related physiological responses in a laboratory setting. In the study, the cortisol levels, plus the degree of alertness, were measured before the the participants begin to chew gum and again as they were chewing the gum.

So just how much effect did chewing gum have on a person’s stress levels? The tests showed that those who chewed gum reduced their levels of anxiety by almost 17 percent when under mild stress and by almost 10 percent when under moderate stress. The difference in levels of performance was even more dramatic as the gum chewers performed 67% to 109% better than the non-gum chewers.

Past researchers have studied the influence of scents on anxiety and stress. This research study, however, did not focus on the type of gum chewed, therefore it’s not known whether flavor of the chewing gum made a difference in the results. What are the ramifications of this study? One likely ramification is that chewing gum manufacturers will be using the science to convince people to chew more of their gum. From a consumer standpoint, however, we’ll have to wait for follow up testing to determine if we all should add chewing gum to our weekly shopping lists.