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Can chewing gum relieve stress and help you concentrate? Here's what the research says.

One expert says chewing gum helps relieve stress because it acts like a
One expert says chewing gum helps relieve stress because it acts like a "mouth fidget spinner." (Getty Creative)

Feeling sluggish or stressed? Popping a piece of gum might help you refocus on the task at hand — at least, that’s what some candy companies want you to believe. According to the Associated Press, candy brand Mars is marketing its new gum for its ability to improve your focus, even including ingredients that supposedly promote brain health.

The idea that gum can help your mental health isn’t new — in fact, the concept of Mars’ concentration-boosting gum came from speaking with a nurse who chewed gum to relax during her stressful shifts during the pandemic. So is there any scientific reason to believe that gum can actually help your mental health and focus? Here’s what to know.

What studies say about gum, stress and concentration

Multiple studies suggest that chewing gum has some mental health benefits that can help you focus better at work or school and reduce stress. A 2018 study found a connection between increased learning performance and chewing gum, while a 2015 study linked chewing gum with higher productivity and alertness. A 2009 study also found chewing gum positively affected one’s mood, lowering anxiety and stress levels.

Sanam Hafeez, a New York City-based neuropsychologist and the director of Comprehend the Mind, tells Yahoo Life there are some biological reasons why chewing gum may have this effect. “Chewing gum may help some individuals focus better due to its ability to increase alertness and cognitive function through enhanced blood flow to the brain,” she explains. “The act of chewing gum can stimulate neural activity, potentially leading to improved concentration and attention span during tasks requiring mental effort.”

Jessica Plonchak, a clinical social worker, tells Yahoo Life that chewing gum also functions as a stress reliever because essentially it's a “mouth fidget spinner.” Although the mechanism behind it isn't known, Plonchak adds: “It's all about ‘mastication-induced arousal,’ which essentially means that chewing continuously stimulates our brains and enables us to concentrate intensely on the work at hand.”

Why you may not want to overdo it on gum

Gum may have some mental health benefits, but overdoing it can lead to health issues. According to the Cleveland Clinic, excessive gum chewing can be bad for your jaw because it puts repetitive strain on the jaw muscles and the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects your lower jaw to your skull. This constant motion may lead to jaw discomfort, muscle fatigue and contribute to jaw-related issues over time.

Chewing gum can also affect your gastrointestinal system, causing you to swallow air, which can lead to gas and bloating. Plus, consuming high amounts of sorbitol, an artificial sweetener found in many brands of sugar-free gum, can cause bloating and even diarrhea.

Although gum is associated with better concentration, not everyone will find it useful. Hafeez says that for some people, chewing gum can actually be distracting — not just for you, but for others. “The noise of chewing or the constant movement of the jaw may disrupt focus or be considered socially inappropriate,” she says. People in your workplace with misophonia, i.e. those who loathe the sound of chewing, may also not be so keen on you chewing gum — even if it helps you focus.