It's not so pleasing when it glues your shoe to the pavement but a new study suggests chewing gum could be a great stress-reliever, with consequent health benefits. Perhaps the finding could help explain why Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson - an incessant gum chewer - has coped for so long with the stress of top-flight football?
Andrew Smith at Cardiff University surveyed over 2,000 workers and found that the 39 per cent of respondents who reported never chewing gum were twice as likely to say they were extremely stressed at work, compared with gum chewers, and one and a half times as likely to say they were very or extremely stressed with life in general.
Of course, rather than chewing gum having a stress-relieving effect, it's perfectly possible that some other factor reduces stress and encourages chewing gum. Indeed, Smith looked at a range of potential confounds and found that women, lower earners, younger, less educated respondents, smokers, people with demanding jobs and neurotic extraverts were all more likely to chew gum. Crucially, however, the link between chewing gum and lower stress held even after taking all these extraneous factors into account.
What's more, chewing gum was also associated with better mental and physical health. Again, this remained true even after controlling for extraneous factors, such that gum chewers were less likely to have symptoms of depression and half as likely to have self-reported high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Smith concluded that chewing gum may be a "readily available and relatively cheap method of addressing" stress and stress-related ill health. Possible mechanisms that might explain the associations reported here include an effect of chewing gum on autonomic nervous system activity and/or on the neurotransmitter serotonin. Smith noted that he has an intervention study underway that will provide a more robust test of the possible stress-related benefits of chewing gum.
Smith, A. (2009). Chewing gum, stress and health Stress and Health, 25 (5), 445-451 DOI: 10.1002/smi.1272
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.