Stress reduction is another claimed benefit of chewing gum, which receives considerable attention owing to the fact that stress affects everyone and people always look for ways to reduce or prevent it.
Does chewing gum really help reduce stress, as it is claimed by many?
Another way to ask this question is “Can you better cope with stress by chewing gum? “.
The Short Answer
A growing body of evidence suggests that chewing gum might be an alternative and inexpensive way to reduce stress and anxiety.
So, the short answer is yes – chewing gum may help you ease stress.
What Evidence Can We Provide?
Researchers from different countries like Australia, Japan, Turkey and UK have investigated the effect of chewing gum on stress reduction in different studies. And, majority of these studies concluded that chewing gum may reduce stress and also increase alertness.
Note: While the majority of studies on this topic support the stress-lowering effect of chewing gum, in some studies researchers couldn’t find a positive correlation between gum-chewing and stress relief [5, 6].
Below, we will scrutinise some of the studies, showing that chewing gum has the potential to reduce stress in order to find answers to some relevant questions, such as:
- What type of gum was used in these studies?
- How long did chewing gum take to reduce stress in the participants?
- Which age group experienced the most mental benefit from chewing gum?
Finding answers to these questions can help you use chewing gum more effectively as a tool to lower stress.
But firstly let’s look at some statistics about stress and also touch on a couple of real-life examples in which chewing gum was/is used (supposedly) with the aim of lowering stress.
Some Statistics About Stress
- It is estimated that around 75% – 90% of all visits to primary care physicians in the United States are for stress-related problems, (American Institute of Stress).
- In Japan, around 60% of employees are reported to suffer from stress, (ScienceDirect).
- Almost 50% of UK adults admit to feeling stressed five or more days each month, (CIPHR).
- Roughly 285 million people around the world had an anxiety disorder in 2017, (Our World in Data).
- From August 2020 to February 2021, the percentage of adults who developed at least one symptom of anxiety or depression increased from 36.4% to 41.5%, (CDC).
Stress Coping Methods and Chewing Gum
The above-given statistics remind us that stress is common and everywhere. Since it is quite common, nearly everyone develops his/her own stress coping strategies.
There are far more relaxation techniques than counted in the previous paragraph. That indicates people use a great number of methods to manage stress and anxiety.
Recent and past studies, conducted in different countries, tell us that gum-chewing might reduce stress to a certain extent, thus, helping individuals to cope with stress.
Those Who Use/Used Chewing Gum To Reduce Stress
Not only are there studies but also real-life examples that might enlighten us on this topic. Here is a couple of them…
Ancient Civilisations & The U.S Army
The Mayans and Aztecs would slice the sapodilla tree’s bark and collect the resin to make a chewable substance. Similarly, Ancient Greeks obtained a chewy material made of resin from the bark of a mastic tree [7, 8, 9].
Allegedly, their first objective was to maintain a healthy mouth. However, it is also suggested that stress reduction may have been one of the reasons why ancient Greeks, Mayans and Aztecs had a chewing (gum) habit [7, 10, 11].
That said, since they (except Aztecs) lived thousands of years ago, we will probably never know exactly why these people had a habit of chewing gum-like substances.
The U.S Army, on the other hand, is known to include chewing gum in combat rations – a food packet easily prepared and consumed by soldiers who are on a mission far away from home – since World War I [12, 13, 14].
Why does the U.S army include chewing gum in combat rations? Does this have anything to do with stress reduction?
According to Jerry Darsch, Director of the Defense Department’s Combat Feeding Program ; the U.S army supplies chewing gum in combat rations to:
- provide a modest source of carbohydrates.
- increase saliva production ( when stressed out salivary flow rate decreases which may lead to nervous dry mouth  ).
- keep soldiers’ teeth clean
- improve morale and ease psychological stress.
It appears that the U.S army regard chewing gum as a tool that could help its soldiers to reduce stress and tension.
Studies On Stress Reduction and Chewing Gum
In this section, we will look at some studies, suggesting that chewing gum could be a simple and effective way to reduce stress.
Australian Study Found: Chewing Gum Help Reduce Stress
Andrew Scholey – the lead researcher and Professor of Behavioural and Brain Sciences at Swinburne University – et al, conducted a study to investigate the effect of chewing gum on stress and performance.
40 people, with an average age of 22, participated in the study.
On separate days, all participants performed on the DISS, while chewing sugar-free gum and not chewing.
Their levels of anxiety and stress were measured before and after completing the DIS Simulation.
The findings showed that the cortisol levels of the participants were 16% lower in the “chewing gum” test condition than in the “non-chewing gum” test condition.
Based on the findings, the lead Professor Scholey suggested; “Chewing gum may actually help us manage life’s daily stressors and keep us from reacting to situations like road rage or panic from looming deadlines,” .
Japanese Study Found: Chewing Fast is More Effective
In the study, Japanese researchers aimed to determine the effect of different chewing rates on stress.
16 healthy males – with an average age of 24 – participated in the study.
The participants were requested to perform a stress-inducing arithmetic calculation for 30 minutes on three separate days.
Immediately after each session, saliva samples were taken from the participants to measure their cortisol (stress) levels.
After completing the stress-inducing task on each of these 3 days, the participants were asked to chew gum for 10 minutes. It is important to note that, the chewing rates were different in each session.
For instance, in one session the participants chewed at a fast rate for 10 minutes after completing the stress-inducing task while the remaining two days they chewed at a normal or habitual rate, again for 10 minutes.
The results showed that chewing gum reduced cortisol levels in all participants regardless of how fast or slow they chewed.
More importantly, researchers discovered a significant stress level difference between slow and fast chewing.
To be more precise; while the slow chewing resulted in 4.7% stress reduction in participants’ cortisol levels, habitual and fast chewing resulted in 14.6%, and 16.2% stress reduction respectively.
A UK Study Found: Chewing Gum Can Act to Reduce Anxiety
A study, published on Nutritional Neuroscience, suggested that “chewing gum modifies state anxiety under conditions of social stress.”
In the study researchers aimed to measure the effectiveness of chewing gum on lowering anxiety under conditions of acute social stress.
It was a randomised controlled study in which 36 participants completed a task including a mock job interview – a variation on the Trier Social Stress Task – while either chewing gum or without chewing gum.
The participants were asked to rate their mood and anxiety levels 10-minute before the task, 10 minute-after the task and following a 5-minute recovery stage.
The results showed that chewing gum reduced the rise in state anxiety while increasing self-rated alertness; however, didn’t affect the contentedness or calmness.
Researchers of this study suggested that chewing gum can act to reduce anxiety under conditions of acute social stress.
Turkish Study: Gum Chewing May Reduce Some Depression Symptoms
In the study, Turkish researchers aimed to discover whether chewing gum has a stress-relieving effect.
30 people who were suffering from mild to moderate depression were given either medication combined with sugar-free chewing gum, or medication only, for 6 weeks.
Tools like HAM-D, T-test and the Chi-squared test were used to either measure the patients’ depression levels or analyse the results.
The results showed that those who took depression medications combined with chewing gum responded better to the treatment than those who used medication only.
Based on the findings, the researchers concluded that chewing gum may not be directly effective on depressed mood; however, it may reduce the symptoms originating from depression such as loss of appetite.
A study From Cardiff University / UK
Researchers from Cardiff University aimed to discover whether chewing gum has beneficial effects on certain characteristics of perceived stress in students.
The findings of the study showed that chewing at least two pieces of gum for 20 minutes a day has positive effects on certain characteristics of perceived stress in students.
The researchers suggested that chewing gum may act as a cheap and healthy stress-relieving method.
Expert Opinions On Chewing Gum and Stress Reduction
“There is little doubt that chewing gum can be a powerful stress buster. Look at a tightly contested baseball game on TV and you’d see how many players, coaches and managers are vigorously chewing bubble gum or something else to relieve their pent up tension,” said Dr Suneetha Narreddy, Infectious Disease Specialist at Apollo Hospitals .
“The ability to cope with stress plays a significant role in everyday health and wellbeing. Australians may not always have the time to fit stress management activities into their busy lives so chewing a piece of sugar-free gum provides an affordable and simple stress management technique that can be implemented any time and anywhere,” said Sharon Natoli, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Director of Food & Nutrition Australia .
“Like most areas of research, there is a great deal of questions that still require fundamental research. However, the benefits of long term chewing on stress reduction suggest that it may be a simple, cost-effective method of reducing stress and improving quality of life and well-being,” said Professor of Psychology and Director, Centre of Occupational and Health Psychology, Cardiff University .
Some Relevant Questions
The questions and their answers present in this section may help you use chewing gum effectively as a stress reduction method.
What Type of Gum is Good for Stress Reduction?
You may want to opt for sugar-free gum to reduce stress. The reason behind this suggestion stems from the fact that generally sugar-free gums were used in the studies we examined above and the results were positive.
How Long You Should Chew Gum to Reduce Stress?
Chewing gum for 10 to 15 minutes appears to be ideal to lower stress, based on the studies we examined above.
Moreover, chewing sugar-free gums consistently, such as 4 days a week for several weeks may bring more positive results in terms of reducing stress, according to a study .
Which Age Group Can Get the Benefit?
According to studies (we analysed above); especially those between 20 to 35 years of age can experience stress reduction benefits by chewing gum.
The Final Verdict
Thus far we have analysed multiple studies – carried out in different countries – to find out whether chewing gum has the ability to reduce stress.
Although there were some limitations in some of the studies we examined above, overall these studies support the idea that chewing gum may help lower stress to a certain extent.
In addition to the studies, we mentioned a couple of real-life examples; for instance, the U.S army.
The U.S military is known to include chewing gum in its’ soldiers’ combat ration since WW1; allegedly, to help their soldiers manage stress.
Based on all findings that we have shared in this article, we can infer that chewing gum might be a simple, inexpensive and effective way to reduce stress.
Most importantly, even without reading a study about it, you can decide whether or not chewing gum helps you better manage your stress.
After all, everyone’s response to stress and stress reduction techniques is unique.
Some find peace in yoga while others avoid stress by spending time with friends, playing with pets, etc. The same thing applies to chewing gum too.
If you think you haven’t been able to manage your stress with simple stress reduction techniques such as doing meditation, walking in nature, listening to music or chewing gum, we encourage you to talk to a loved one and consult a professional for further guidance.
Remember, long-term unmanaged stress can turn into a mental illness such as depression and it is not always easy to overcome mental problems on our own.
So, do not hesitate to get support from your family members, friends and professionals to feel better.
Cemre is a psychologist and also a psychology-related issues writer at neededforhealth.com. She graduated from Middle East Technical University as a high honour student in 2021. Currently, she continues her clinical psychology master program at TOBB University of Economics and Technology and plans to graduate in 2023 as a clinical psychologist.
She made many research proposals with her colleagues during his undergraduate education. Furthermore, she did a research internship as a Tubitak scholar at Koç University. In the field of practice, she completed her internship as a psychologist in a private clinic in Ankara.