By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Perhaps it was an ancient Mayan child who stumbled across it first. As anyone who has raised a child knows, we humans have an innate need to chew almost from birth. Scientists have dated the practice of chewing gum back to the ancinet Mayans who chewed "chicle" from the sapadilla tree.
So perhaps, one day, a Mayan toddler, enjoying some shade from the relentless sun with her mother while napping together on the cool grass of the forest floor, woke up and waddled away on her own. She came upon something odd sticking out on the bark of the tree.
And, with the fearless curiosity that only children have, she stared at it a bit, then quickly addressed the "what is that" question with the only investigative reply toddlers have--she popped it in her mouth for a good chew.
Okay, so maybe it didn't happened exactly this way. Afterall some scientists trace chewing gum back to Europeans over 9,000 years ago. But what is clear is that the chewing gum habits, forgive the pun, "stuck". Today, 59% of all people in the US chew gum.
But is this ubiquitous habit harmless? Putting aside our Mom's admonition not to "chew gum in public", how does chewing gum affect your health? It turns out, chewing gum is a pretty powerful effects on your body. Here are the weirdest:
Chewing Gum Increases Your Blood Pressure
That's right, chewing that stick of gum actually increases your blood pressure, a study has found. A 2009 study from Osaka University Graduate School of Dentistry in Japan found that chewing gum (mastication) raises both your blood pressure and your heart rate.
The mechanisms through which chewing gum accomplishes these feats is activation of your autonomic nervous system and your systemic circulatory system.
Chewing Gum Gives Some People Migraines
In a 2014 study, scoentists from Tel Aviv University discovered that chewing gum was a trigger for migraine headaches. In this study 30 participants with a history of migraines were studied. Of the 30, 25 of women were female and 5 male, with an average age of 16. After discontinuing chewing gum, 19 of the 30 saw their migraines vanish. Moreover, a full 26 of the 30 (87%) saw their symptoms improve after they stopped chewing gum.
Of course, this is only one study and the sampe size of just 30 people is small. But it is a rather striking result.
Chewing Gum Helps You Think Better
Several studies have found a connection between gum chewing and increased ability to analyze and pay attention. The studies that have analyzed whether chewing gum affects your ability to think better go both ways. A Dutch study in 2015 took a comprehensive look at all the other existing studies to try to reconcile the results.
This comprehensive study, led by scientists from VU University Amsterdam and Amsterdam University confirmed that all teh existing studies, thouigh they may conflict on some matters, do agree on one thing --gum chewing expands your working memory.
What is your working memory? This is the memory you use to keep track of things you are using now. When you momentarily put down a pen in front of you to answer the phone, you can remember that the pen is right in front of you.
Chewing gum also appears to increase your attention span. In 2014 a team of researchers led by Dr. Yoshiyuki Hirano from Chiba University in Japan performed a mega-study of all other existing studies on this subject. What the team found was that, of the 22 studies identified, 14 studies (64%) found that chewing gum did in fact increase your attention span, only 1 study came to the opposite conclusion, and 5 studies found that gum chewing had both positive and negative impacts on attention span. The remaining 2 studies showed no statistically significant results either way.