Chewing gum is a 'cheap' way to help stay alert: Study

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Study indicates faster reaction time following chewing gum, as well as heightened arousal in terms of heart rate and EEG measures.
Study indicates faster reaction time following chewing gum, as well as heightened arousal in terms of heart rate and EEG measures.

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Chewing gum may make you more alert and could be useful in contexts such as driving, according to a new study.

Researchers found that chewing gum affects several different indicators of alertness and improves attention, although the mechanism for this effect remains unclear.

Chewing gum could therefore "act as a relatively inexpensive and safe means of enhancing sustained attention,”​ according to the authors.The study, published in the Physiology & Behavior​ journal, adds to a growing body of research on gum.

Lead researcher Andrew Allen, University College Cork, said there was already quite robust evidence that chewing gum was associated with improved alertness, particularly in situations where alertness was depleted, such as a fatiguing work context.

“What was relatively new about this study was that we looked at both central nervous system measures and cardiovascular measures and how these related to subjective alertness and attention performance,”​ he said.

“The results of this study indicated faster reaction time following chewing gum, as well as heightened arousal in terms of heart rate and EEG measures (a recording of brain activity).

“Driving is a task that requires sustained attention and sustained alertness. If chewing gum can enhance attention and alertness, or at least prevent them from slipping, then it could result in improved performance in applied contexts,” ​the researchers said. 

The study

Forty participants completed a vigilance task (requiring sustained attention) four times - at baseline, with or without chewing gum, and twice post-chewing. The researchers used Wrigley's standard gum. 

The results showed that chewing gum quickened reaction time and increased the rate of correct target detections, although correct detections fell during the second post-chewing task. Chewing gum also heightened heart rate, but only during chewing.

The study concludes: “The enhancing effect of chewing gum on vigilance accuracy suggests that it may be useful in a number of applied contexts, such as driving; it has been suggested that this could be tested using driving simulation techniques, similar to research assessing possible enhancing effects of caffeine.”

However, the authors found that chewing gum did not affect anxiety. This was in contrast with research assessing the effect of chewing gum under conditions of acute stress, although this could be due to anxiety being close to the base for participants, they said. 

It was suggested that future research should examine the role of flavour in chewing gum, given existing evidence that it can have differing effects on EEG data.

Adding value

The chewing gum segment is expected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.9% through to 2017, while the global market for gums is forecast to reach $23.1bn by 2017.

Chewing gum with various functional and value-added benefits has breathed new life into the market, according to Global Industry Analysts.

Examples include caffeine gum and gum fortified with B-vitamins or ingredients usually found in energy drinks such as taurine, guarana extracts and botanicals.


Source: Physiology and Behavior

Title: “Effects and after-effects of chewing gum on vigilance, heart rate, EEG and mood”

Authors: A. P. Allen, T. J.C. Jacob, A. P. Smith

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