Some chewing gums are harmful to our health and also ecotoxic

We chew them for a few minutes, we consume a little more than 99 kilos every second in the world. But what exactly does this gum contain? Are the components harmful to our health? Yes, some contain endocrine disrupters, including BHA. Moreover, when thrown into the wild, they are ecotoxic!

According to the University of Zurich, approximately 374 billion chewing gums are consumed worldwide each year, or 3.1 billion kilos per year. A pleasure that is not new! The Greeks chewed resin, the Amazon Indians chewed tobacco pellets. In its modern form, chewing gum appeared in 1869. He is a Mexican general driven out of his country by the revolution that brought 250 kilos of dried sap back to the United States. After failing to sell his gum as a substitute for rubber, he left it to Thomas Adam, who sold it in pharmacies: chewing gum was born. We only discovered chewable dough here in 1917, with the arrival of American troops on the Old Continent. This natural chicle was very quickly replaced by polysibutylene, a synthetic rubber to meet demand.

In addition to this synthetic rubber, these cheques contain a base gum whose recipe remains secret. It is difficult in this case to know if these components are toxic, but we are interested in another ingredient on some packages: the BHA also noted as E320) This butylated hydroxyanisole is an antioxidant, a preservative but it is classified in group 2 B of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, underlines Dr Corinne Charlier, Toxicologist at the University Hospital of Liège: "We therefore have doubts about the carcinogenic nature of the substance. In addition, this molecule behaves like a chemical with an endocrine disrupting effect. It can therefore have endocrine disrupting effects. This means that it is able to disrupt the functioning of our hormonal systems. The effects can be at the sexual level with hyper-fertility, at the metabolic level such as type 2 diabetes, obesity in young children. A neurological axis with hyperactivity and also immunosuppression, a poorer performance of the immune system. "

Endocrine disruptor

We asked Mars Wrigley why these chews contained BHA:"In Europe, Mars Wrigley Confectionery uses BHA in its products in accordance with applicable food legislation. BHA (BHA / E320) is known for its antioxidant properties. It is therefore used in a wide variety of foods, including chewing gum, because it prevents foods from turning rancid or changing colour. BHA is used in Mars Wrigley Confectionery chewing gum as an antioxidant and helps to maintain the quality, taste and appearance of our products. The BHA has undergone extensive scientific review and has been legally authorized as a food additive by national and international food safety organizations, including EFSA, and by the Joint Expert Committee of the World Health Organization on Food Additives (JECFA). Its use in Mars Wrigley Confectionery gum is well within established limits. A typical consumption of chewing gum would result in an intake of BHA well below the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 1.0 mg / kg body weight / day established by the EFSA Scientific Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food in September 2011. Mars Wrigley ensures that all ingredients used in our products meet the highest health and safety standards." The dose, the response of many firms. Yes, but the problem is that it is not the dose that makes the poison, as Dr. Corinne Charlier explains to us: "If we accept the notion of effects without dose. That is, the mere presence of the product may lead to a probability of effects. This means that there should not have been any BHA at all: 0% in this type of product. That means that as soon as there are any. Even if it is a very small dose, the presence of the product is sufficient to cause a probability of effects. "


Carcinogenic too....

But there is another intruder sometimes also in chewing gum: titanium dioxide, a white dye, E171 which is also considered a possible carcinogen, especially for pregnant women and small children, says Corinne Charlier. Wirgley admits to wanting to remove this artificial colouring from these sweets. The food grade titanium dioxide we use has proven to be safe and its use is approved by food safety authorities, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Before EFSA reaffirmed the safety of titanium dioxide in September 2016, we had already committed to remove artificial colours, including titanium dioxide, from our portfolio of products for human consumption over the next five years. We expect our confectionery products in Europe to be titanium dioxide free by June 2020. The replacement of artificial colours in all our food products is a complex task as we must develop the full range of alternatives and obtain regulatory approval for all new ingredients under development. Making these changes without sacrificing the safety, quality and good taste that our consumers love is our top priority. "

Ecotoxic in addition

Unfortunately, these chewing gums often end up in the wild. We're talking about 7 out of 10 cheques. They are allowed to disintegrate into mini-particles, slowly but surely. It takes between 5 and 6 years for them to disappear from our sight. But never completely and these sticky wastes do damage as Professor Célia Joaquim-Justo, Ecotoxicologist at ULG, tells us: "Once the BHA enters aquatic ecosystems through runoff water in particular. We're going to find some toxicity. It is a molecule that is not degraded at all in aquatic environments and has a potential for bioaccumulation and therefore, it is a combination that is very harmful to the environment. "

BHA, a molecule to be avoided just like titanium dioxide. Take a magnifying glass and read the labels because some brands do not contain any and especially at the end of their life, do not hesitate: throw your chewing gum in the trash.

All you need to know about the health effects of chewing gum

We often chew them without really knowing what they contain or their health effects.

What's the risk of swallowing gum? 

This is a warning that we all heard in childhood. A swallowed chewing gum gets stuck in the digestive system, as if stuck under a table. It could even cause appendicitis. Urban legend or reality?

Chewing gum "remains immune to digestion", explains Dr. David Milov, a pediatric gastroenterologist, at an American scientific site. According to the specialist, the swallowed gum "will probably take longer to be disposed of than other food products". But eventually, however, it will inevitably be pushed out "almost intact" by the contraction of the smooth muscles of the digestive tract, a mechanism that doctors call peristalsis. So you don't seem to be in much danger of swallowing your gum discreetly during an important appointment.

However, there is no smoke without fire. In 1998, Dr. David Milov and his colleagues described (in English) the case of three young children who should have been warned. The first 4.5 year old child complained of constipation in 2 years. In question? The young boy systematically swallowed the gum given to him as a reward by his parents (5 to 7 a day!). The chewing gum had gradually accumulated in the rectum until it formed a solid mass (called fecal impaction).

EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, recommends that children under 3 years of age should not be given chewing gum because of the high risk of choking at that age.

Chewing gum: the "helping hand" to be effective in the office? 

Some say that chewing gum boosts intellectual performance. Others even go so far as to say that the brain receives more oxygen, to the delight of our small grey cells.

In 2015, two Japanese researchers, Yoshiyuki Hirano and Minoru Onozuka, examined the scientific studies conducted on the subject1. Of the 22 studies identified, more than half showed a positive effect of chewing gum on attention and alertness.

Does taking gum from the office improve performance?

To find out, an Irish research team recruited 126 employees from a university in 2012. In one day, half the group was instructed to chew 10 tablets of gum, while the other half had to do without it completely. Participants' level of fatigue and work performance was assessed using self-questionnaires at the beginning and end of the day.


Chewing gum in a single day of work is associated with less work stress, fatigue and inattention," according to the study's authors.

As for the mechanism behind this effect, it remains largely unknown. For our Irish researchers, neither the intensity of chewing nor the taste can explain the increase in alertness at work. In any case, and even if the effect remains very moderate, chewing gum at least reduces our coffee consumption!


Sugar-free chewing gum: no more brushing teeth? 

It is sometimes said that chewing sugar-free chewing gum would help maintain good oral hygiene and would be an effective solution against cavities. True or false?

What we do know is that chewing a gum stimulates the production of saliva. According to the main dentists' association in the United States, the ADA, this would make it possible to:

  •     Neutralize plaque acids. These acids are caused by the fermentation of sugars by bacteria. The problem is that they gradually attack the enamel of the tooth and create the conditions for the development of cavities.
  •     On the contrary, the concentration of calcium and phosphates in the mouth increases with salivation, which promotes the remineralization of the enamel. This is also why some chewing gums contain fluoride.

The role of sugar-free chewing gum in maintaining tooth mineralization was confirmed in 2010 by the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA. Experts at the health institute suggest that to achieve this protective effect, 2 to 3 g of gum (the equivalent of a tablet) should be chewed for 20 minutes at least three times a day after meals.

For the Union Française pour la Santé Oralo-Dentaire, this would not replace tooth brushing and flossing. The dentists in the association always recommend "brushing teeth twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste and cleaning the plaque between the teeth once a day with dental floss or other interdental cleaners. "But also recognize that sugar-free chewing gum is an effective way to fight cavities when it is difficult to draw toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Chewing gum promotes the resumption of transit after surgery 

Chewing gum carelessly is not insignificant for our digestive system. First, because it promotes the production of saliva. When swallowed, saliva carries with it air that causes bloating and eructation: the uncomfortable symptoms of aerophagia.

But the effects of chewing can be positive in some cases. This has been demonstrated in several studies conducted in patients who have just undergone gastrointestinal surgery, laparoscopic gynaecological surgery or cesarean section.

After abdominal or pelvic surgery, the intestinal transit works momentarily in slow motion. It's because doctors call a postoperative ileus. Studies suggest that chewing gum promotes transit recovery.

Some specialists suggest that chewing gum would be considered by the body as a "sham feeding". In particular, the production of saliva and other digestive juices would be stimulated, which would encourage the resumption of intestinal transit.

Is sugar-free chewing gum bad for your health?

Let's take a look at their composition. A sugar-free chewing gum contains a base gum to which a flavouring, sweeteners and various additives or processing aids (such as colouring and preservatives) are added. Sweeteners such as aspartame, xylitol, sorbitol or mannitol give our tablets and dragées a sweet taste.

The most well-known of these, aspartame, has been suspected of promoting cancer, premature delivery or being at risk to the fetus at very high doses. A controversy that has prompted chewing gum manufacturers in recent years to prefer sorbitol and xylitol.

These two sweeteners have been praised by several studies for their "anti-caries" effect. First - and this is their main reason for being - because they replace sugars! However, sugars undergo a fermentation process in the mouth, under the effect of bacteria. This fermentation leads to an acidification of the PH, which weakens the dental enamel and leads to its demineralization. The result, in the long term, is a beautiful cavity.

Sweeteners used in sugar-free chewing gums (xylitol, sorbitol or mannitol ) have the advantage of not undergoing this fermentation process. In addition, some studies suggest that xylitol inhibits the development of a bacterium (Streptococcus mutans) that is involved in the formation of cavities.
Be careful, xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol would have laxative effects at high doses!