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The Dangers of Chewing Gum
Can You Chew Gum and Exercise at the Same Time?

We don't want to burst your bubble, but should you be chewing gum while working out?

When I was a kid, chewing gum was banned in the classroom. The reasons varied depending on the teacher explaining it. The most common explanations were the noise and disruption of students sitting close by to the unsanitary way many people disposed of it. From sticking it under desks and chairs to dropping it on the floor, where it promptly got stuck to the bottom of a shoe.

Not being someone who was a particular fan of gum, I never really paid it much attention. That changed in 2007 and 2008, with the release of some gum chewing studies. Researchers found that when people chewed "sugar free gum before a meal, they reduced their caloric intake by an average of 36 calories. Chewing gum between meals also reduced the desire for snacks, eliminating even more calories from their daily total." 

It seemed like chewing gum might be a good thing. That was bolstered by additional research that showed gum with the sugar-free sweetener xylitol can reduce cavities. Xylitol was shown to reduce the two most common forms of bacteria that cause cavities, Mutans Streptococci and Lactobacilli.

Wow, chew gum before a meal and you lose weight while reducing cavities.

There were some cautions in the studies of course. Some people developed headaches from the constant grinding. Those who chewed gum more often on one side than the other could experience a "jaw muscle imbalance" and even TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder). Then there are the concerns that sugar-free gums with the sugar alcohol sorbitol can cause diarrhea.

So it seemed that if done at the right time (before a meal), with sugar-free gum using xylitol, and as long as you didn't do it for too long, chewing gum was a good thing.

Then in January of 2015, I heard about Shanice Clark. She was a 21-year-old senior athlete at California University of Pennsylvania. According to the coroner, she died from choking on gum. I did a little searching and found several cases of people who died that way.

I even checked with the International Chewing Gum Association (yes there really is such an organization) and they said, "As with any food product, chewing gum, in exceptional circumstances, can present a risk of choking for children and even adults."

What makes the choking problem so serious is that gum is flexible. If it gets stuck, unlike regular foods, gum tends to turn into a perfect block for your airway. When a vegetable gets lodged in your throat, you can use maneuvers like the Heimlich to force it out. But with gum, it hangs on and merely shifts it's shape to the various pressures. It's much harder to expel and is much more likely to be lethal. 

Choking isn't the only problem. When you exercise vigorously, proper breathing is a vital part of the technique. More often than not we breathe through our mouths during strenuous exercise. If you're chewing gum, you tend to keep your mouth closed and you won't take in as much oxygen as your body might need. That means you won't get as effective a workout as you might have wanted.

When I shared what I learned with my co-workers, one of them asked about caffeinated gum. Some companies sell gum laced with caffeine and they're promoted as a way to get extra energy during a workout.

Turns out, you don't have to waste your money. In a study published in the March 2012 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, they found that, "...low-dose caffeine administered in chewing gum has no effect on time to exhaustion (TTE) during cycling in recreational athletes and is, therefore, not recommended."

Simply put, sugar-free chewing gum with xylitol may be OK before a meal, but don't bother with any brands that add caffeine and it's something to be avoided while exercising. Your health and your life may depend on it.

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