Is Chewing Gum A Bad Habit?

Chewing sugar-free gum has a lot of benefits; it's long been touted as helping everything from keeping your breath fresh to improving productivity. But here's a counterpoint to the : According to new research, chewing gum could be bad for you in a way that you're not expecting. If you've ever wondered whether gum chewing is a bad habit, this new intel might help you firm up your opinion — for better or for worse.

For what it's worth, chomping on gum-like substances isn't a new thing; indeed, people across the globe have been chewing on natural materials for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks favored mastic gum, or mastiche, (which is where the word "masticate" originates from); meanwhile, resin and latex from trees, various sweet grasses, waxes, and tobacco leaves have all served as substances to chew on in ancient Indian, Mayan and Aztec cultures, long before it became a Western hobby.

Which brings us to today's tidbit: According to a new study from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Binghamton University, an ingredient found in many gum varieties contains nanoparticles of titanium oxide, which can damage our intestines in the right quantities. Although researchers note that this compound is practically "unavoidable" (it's found in things like toothpaste, candy, mayonnaise, and chocolate to improve textures and enhance and brighten the natural color of foods), a press release from the University noted that titanium oxide may also be used for "white pigmentation in paints, paper and plastics" and is an "active ingredient in mineral-based sunscreens for pigmentation to block ultraviolet light."

The research examined the effect of titanium oxide in the body and found two major results: After exposure to nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, the ability of the body's small intestine cells to absorb nutrients was impaired and the ability to block out harmful pathogens was “significantly decreased." Scientists exposed a replica of a small intestinal cell to the equivalent of a meal’s worth of titanium oxide and found that the intestinal cells had a significantly harder time absorbing iron, zinc, and fatty acids (which of course, are necessary for a healthy, functioning body).

Study author Professor Gretchen Mahler, who is a Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor at Binghamton, said that ingesting titanium dioxide won't kill you, but advised against consuming “foods rich in titanium oxide nanoparticles" such as "processed foods, and especially candy." Said Mahler, "That is where you see a lot of nanoparticles."

This isn't to say that chewing gum is something to be feared; however, it does seem that spitting out your gum may be a great place to start when it comes to reducing your titanium oxide nanoparticle intake. As Cosmopolitan notes, titanium oxide is listed on food labels, but titanium oxide nanoparticles are not; as such, the only way to avoid consuming too much may be to clean up your entire diet. However, it is also true that there are many benefits to chewing gum; it can improve productivity and alertness, help protect against tooth cavities, and even improve your test scores. And with everything, balance is key right?