Japanese research shows the brain’s reaction times are up to 10% faster when people chew.
“Our results suggest that chewing induced an increase in the arousal level and alertness in addition to an effect on motor control and, as a consequence, these effects could lead to improvements in cognitive performance,” researchers at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences say.
In the study they gave 17 volunteers two 30-minute tests – in one test they chewed flavourless gum to avoid distraction from the flavour and in the other they didn’t.
The researchers measured alertness and reaction times, while also taking brain scans, to see which parts of the brain were activated.
When the volunteers were chewing, they took 493 milliseconds to react, while those not chewing took 545 milliseconds.
The scans showed that the areas of the brain responsible for attention and movement were most active when chewing.
The researchers suggest chewing gum could have relaxed the participants, which may have improved their reaction time.
One past study showed chewing gum for 20 minutes increased people’s heart rates, which then sent more oxygen to the brain.
Another theory is that chewing increases insulin production, which can also help alertness and memory.