Chewing Gum Makes You More Alert

Coventry University researchers found that chewing mint flavoured gum dramatically reduced feelings of tiredness. Another study on the subject found that chewing gum can improve overall test scores and memory by 35 per cent, relieve stress and reduce anxiety levels.

What we know thus far is that chewing gum makes you much more alert but has rather variable effects on paying attention. The benefits of gum chewing are particularly impressive if you’re sleepy. If you’re trying to pay close attention to specific things happening in your environment, such as being vigilant about baseballs being thrown at you, chewing caffeinated gum might be more beneficial than non-caffeinated gum. For some people, gum chewing helps them to multi-task. Someone in your office likely does this while trying to talk on the phone while playing video games and drinking coffee at their desk.

How could gum chewing achieve these benefits? Certainly, the act of chewing is rewarding and can be arousing because it implies that nutrients are on their way to the brain. Also, stimulation of the trigeminal nerve that innervates the jaw muscles is likely arousing. Finally, many gums offer a small dose of sugar that can be arousing by reducing hunger pangs. Some people find that gum chewing helps fight the urge to eat or consume other arousing chemicals, such as nicotine or caffeine.

The scientists who conducted this study were careful to control for the complex effects that different gums introduce to the oral experience and offered their participants either Extra Spearmint, Extra Peppermint, Airwaves Cherry, Extra Cool Breeze, Extra Ice, Airwaves Menthol and Eucalyptus, Airwaves Black Mint and Airwaves Green Mint.

Overall gum chewing significantly increased alertness, quickened reaction time and increased the speed of encoding new information. Also good news: gum chewing does not impair your ability to pay attention by distracting you from your current task.

Sadly, once you spit out the gum, the benefits go with it; there was no persistent carryover benefit on alertness. Now that’s something to chew on.

 

© Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D. Author of Your Brain on Food(link is external) (Oxford University Press)

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