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Why You Should Be Worried About Chemicals In Your Chewing Gum

To chew or not to chew — that is the question. And the answer? It depends on how much you're willing to risk your health for fresh breath.

The next time someone offers you a stick of gum, don't accept it right away unless you've gotten a chance to check out the ingredients on the package. That may seem dramatic to you, but it won't by the time you finish reading about the sketchy list of chemicals in each seemingly innocent piece.

Gum enters your body through the walls of your mouth, skipping over your digestive system and the toxin-filtering that takes place there, so it's about time you paid attention to what's actually in it. We're here to tell you that besides being one of the 25 Foods That Make You Hungrier, the gum you're mindlessly chewing could put you at risk for a variety of diseases and dental issues. Talk about a sticky situation.


pink sticks of gum

If you've ever wondered how gum brands get their product to taste so yummy, it's all about the artificial sweeteners. Aspartame, the most widely known of these, is processed by your body into poisonous methanol and carcinogenic formaldehyde, the same formaldehyde used in body embalming, according to a study in Cell Biology and Toxicology. This sweetener acts as an excitotoxin, meaning it overexcites neurons in the brain until they burn out, lowering intelligence. While any links to asthma, insomnia, and multiple sclerosis don't have much scientific backing, aspartame should still be avoided for its proven link to fibromyalgia. In a Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology study, two patients had their symptoms disappear when they removed aspartame from their diet.

And if that doesn't have you convinced, the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine found a connection between artificial sweetener use and weight gain. Both aspartame and acesulfame potassium, another fake sugar found in gum, led to obesity by creating a higher motivation to eat more. A study in Preventive Medicine also labeled the second sweetener as a carcinogen, linking it to tumors.

Tummy-bloating ingredients like these are also very dangerous for people with preexisting conditions. Those suffering from PKU, for example, can't break down the phenylalanine found in aspartame and, if untreated, ingesting this amino acid causes mental retardation and brain seizures, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition. Conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be aggravated as well by chemically extracted sugar alcohols like sorbitol. According to a study in the journal Gastroenterology and Hepatology, these sometimes lead to abdominal pains and diarrhea, possibly due to an intolerance to the poorly absorbed carbohydrates. Research is still ongoing, but why take a chance?

Whitening Agents

pack of gum

Any pack of gum that advertises its ability to whiten your teeth is full of whitening agents that will help prevent future teeth stains. One of these whitening agents, titanium dioxide, has been linked to asthma and Crohn's disease, according to a study in Environmental Science and Technology, and it's potentially carcinogenic on top of that. A study in Cancer Research found that this chemical led to respiratory tract cancer in rats. Not as much research has been done on calcium casein peptone, a highly processed milk derivative that also acts as a whitening agent, but even though not much is known about its long-term ingestion effects, that shouldn't come as a relief. What you don't know can hurt you.

Flavorings And Preservatives

girl blowing gum bubble

BHT is so toxic that it's been banned in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and throughout Europe, but guess where it's still available and running rampant in gum products? Right here in the US. It's a preservative that the International Journal of Toxicology has linked to toxicity in organ systems, causing damage to the kidney, lungs, and liver. There has also been a lot of controversy about whether or not it increases hyperactivity in kids. Parents of children with ADHD are encouraged to track whether symptoms worsen or improve when BHT is removed from their diets.

Preservatives like this one, as well as the acidic flavorings used to make gum taste better longer, can also have negative effects on your teeth. According to a study done by the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre, sugar-free gum doesn't cause cavities, but it does weaken your enamel. Instead of fixing your problem, chewing gum can kickstart a new one.

Gum Base

unwrapped stick of gum

Without gum base, your favorite gum wouldn't be chewy. And while that's kind of an important aspect of chewing gum, is it worth the health risks? We don't think so. For starters, the base of gum is made of a lengthy list of softeners, elastomers, fillers, and waxes, among other things. Sounds like a mouthful, but basically all this does is create a non-digestive method for carrying flavor.

This blend often includes paraffin wax, a byproduct of refined petroleum, and polyvinyl acetate, which is just a fancy word for carpenter's glue. On top of that, there's usually glycerol ester of rosin. Although there's a limit to how much of this oil-soluble food additive can be used in sodas, no such limitations have been put on gum. Instead, the proportion is increased depending on whether you've got chewing, bubble, or sugar-free gum. Either way, consuming gum base is a risk we'd rather not take.

Chew This Instead!

simply gum

Simply Gum

Luckily, there's no need to stop chewing cold turkey when there are clean options available that remove sweeteners and swap gum base for chicle, a natural latex from the bark of a sapodilla tree. Simply Gum is a good brand to start with, thanks to its all-natural ingredients. But be warned that although there are a lot to choose from — maple, cinnamon, ginger, coffee, mint, or fennel — it doesn't hold onto flavor like the gum you're used to and isn't as chewy. But no matter which brand you choose, keep in mind that chewing gum leads to bloated tummies. That's why you won't find it in our Ultimate Guide To Getting A Flat Stomach Fast.

Simply Gum Mint Natural Chewing Gum
$15.19 per 6-pack ($0.17 per piece) at