- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

Maybe walking and chewing gum at the same time shouldn't be so tough after all.
A joint study carried out by the University of Northumbria and the Cognitive Research Unit in England has found that the act of chewing gum improves short- and long-term memory by up to 35 percent.
Spearmint, cinnamon or bubble-gum flavor it doesn't matter.
The key to better brain power is the repetitive chewing motion, according to the study, which was presented at the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Blackpool earlier this week.
"The results were extremely clear, and specifically we found that chewing gum targeted memory," said Andrew Scholey, a scientist with the university's human cognitive neuroscience unit who carried out the study. "People recalled more words and performed better in tests on working memory."
Why does chewing gum stimulate one's memory?
Scientists don't know for sure, but they are working on two theories. One theory is that the gentle exercise of chewing raises a person's heart rate, which increases the flow of oxygen to the brain. Another theory is that chewing triggers the release of insulin, a natural chemical that stimulates a section of the brain involved in memory.
The results of the study were welcomed by chewing-gum manufacturers worldwide, who said they always had known there were positive benefits to chewing gum.
"This is definitely good news," said Christopher J. Perille, senior director of corporate communications for Chicago-based Wrigley, one of the largest gum manufacturers in the world. "We've always known that chewing gum has its benefits. This study just reinforces those benefits."
The latest experiment involved 75 subjects, who were split into groups of nonchewers, real chewers and "sham" chewers, who pretended to chew with nothing in their mouths. For part of the experiment, the people were given a list of 15 words and asked to recall them immediately and repeat them again after 25 minutes.
At the end of the exercise, the gum chewers remembered an average of eight or nine words immediately after hearing the list. Those without chewing gum remembered six or seven words, Mr. Scholey said.
This is not the first time that gum has shown health benefits. Several years ago, the New England Journal of Medicine published results of a study showing that chewing sugar-free gum could help a person lose up to 11 pounds of extra weight each year. That study was conducted by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
The results of the latest studies are a far cry from the days when chewing gum was said to be unhealthy. In 1869, one doctor wrote that chewing gum would "exhaust the salivary glands and cause the intestines to stick together." Later, teachers all over the country would admonish their students not to chew gum in class because it was a distraction.
Times have changed. Today, the average American chews an estimated 300 sticks of gum per year, and children in North America spend about a half-billion dollars on bubble gum every year, according to the National Association of Chewing Gum Manufacturers.
The article is based in part on wire service reports.


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