Recent media and scientific focus has centered on the ingredients we introduce into our bodies. We all know that the ingredients of the food we eat impacts our health, but what about chewing gum? Since we don’t ingest the gum, most people overlook the ingredients. However, a single piece of chewing gum can be quite harmful to your health.
For over 100 years, modern dentistry has known and acknowledged that sugary chewing gum causes tooth decay. So when you’re grabbing a pack of gum on-the-go, you should reach for a sugar-free brand. And yet, most of the sugar-free options at the store contain aspartame. In fact, an estimated 85% of sugar-free gum brands feature the artificial sweetener.
Aspartame can be toxic to the human body, triggering or worsening significant health issues like brain tumors, Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy. If you read the gum label and it isn’t aspartame-free, you’re putting your health at risk.
Where did aspartame come from?
Discovered by accident during an anti-ulcer drug trial in 1965, aspartame quickly became the number one sugar substitute. Everything from diet sodas, table top sweeteners, sugar-free sweets, and of course chewing gum, contain aspartame. According to consumer research reports, aspartame is currently found in more than 6,000 products. Meaning more than 200 million people worldwide consume the sweetener.
After its discovery in 1965, aspartame was not yet approved by the FDA for consumption. That didn’t stop manufacturers from including aspartame in their products. It’s a cheap alternative to sugar. It allows manufacturers to label their product as sugar-free, and in some cases calorie free. The FDA finally approved aspartame in 1981, over fifteen years after its discovery.
For chewing gum companies, aspartame seemed to be the “holy grail” ingredient they needed. It doesn’t cause tooth decay like sugar does, and it was going to save them an unprecedented amount of money in production. Marketed as “healthy,” sugar-free gum featuring aspartame hit the shelves in a flash.
Unfortunately, the effects that aspartame has on the human body are not so sweet. Aspartame is a synthetic combination composed of three chemicals: methanol (10%), aspartic acid (40%), and phenylalanine (50%). Each of these substances alone puts you at risk. Aspartic acid is a free excitatory amino acid which has known links to neurological conditions. Phenylalanine is similarly linked to neurological conditions including seizures, schizophrenia, and dementia. Methanol is a wood alcohol that metabolizes into formaldehyde within the body.
Of all the reports the FDA receives about adverse reactions to additives, aspartame accounts for more than 75%. Unfortunately, the FDA receives reports of only an estimated 1% of adverse reactions that occur. There are over ninety different documented symptoms associated with aspartame, and it is known to trigger and worsen many illnesses.
Symptoms of aspartame toxicity include, but are not limited to:
Shortness of breath
Marked thinning or loss of hair
Gradual weight gain
Irreversible brain damage
Hyperactivity in children
Critical conditions, which can be worsened or triggered by aspartame ingestion, include but are not limited to:
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Due to the similarity of aspartame reaction symptoms and textbook disease symptoms, aspartame poisoning is often overlooked and misdiagnosed. Aspartame also affects the ratio of amino acids in the blood, which blocks or lowers the levels of serotonin, tyrosine, dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline. This makes it undetectable on x-rays or lab tests.
As an ingredient in chewing gum, aspartame is more harmful than it is in other food products. The buccal mucosa of the mouth, gums, and tongue absorb the aspartame in chewing gum. It then quickly travels through the bloodstream, bypassing the blood-brain barrier and spinal cord, and goes directly to the brain. Simply switching to aspartame-free gum will significantly reduce health risks.
Although sugar-free gum with aspartame can be toxic, sugar-free and aspartame-free gum can be an excellent component of your oral care routine when brushing isn’t an option. In fact, dentists recommend chewing aspartame-free gum for twenty minutes between meals and after snacks. The act of chewing itself promotes salivation, which helps to wash away left over food particles and reduce the risk of dental caries.
What is the history of chewing gum?
Chewing gum isn’t all bad, especially when you’re chewing the right kind. In fact, chewing gum is one of the first recorded methods of oral care. The ancient Greeks chewed the resin derived from the bark of the mastic tree. And thanks to the Native Americans of New England, the American colonists chewed the sap of spruce trees. They began selling it commercially in the early 1800s making spruce sap the first commercial chewing gum.
Brought to the United States in the early 1860s, a chicle-based gum kicked off the modern chewing gum craze. Chicle comes from the milky juice of the sapodilla tree that grows in the tropical climates of Central America. As the popularity of chicle gum grew, sapodilla suppliers realized their ability to supply the demand was limited. When the trees could not keep up, manufacturers began using synthetic gum bases. Over the next 100 years every component of chewing gum became mass manufactured from the chewy base to the flavoring and, of course, the sweetener.
As chewing gum evolved over time, so did modern dentistry. Gum was formerly sweetened with sugar before the discovery of aspartame and other sugar alternatives. Dentists then began to learn of the negative effects that sugary chewing gum has on teeth. They spread the word far and wide that chewing gum was not good for oral health. Thankfully today, the American Dental Association is continually researching.
Studies on sugar-free and aspartame-free gum
A recent study recognized by the ADA tracked the effectiveness of two different aspartame-free gum brands at trapping the germs that cause dental caries. Five participants chewed aspartame free gum for a length of time ranging from a half to ten minutes. The results were consistent for both brands, showing that they indeed had the ability trap germs. This study highlights the effectiveness aspartame-free gum has at not only reducing dental caries but also improving overall oral health by way of germ reduction.
Another medical study recognized by the ADA with similar results is a systematic review of sugar-free gum conducted by Mickenautsch in 2007. The conclusion of this review was that sugar-free gum has caries reducing potential which is directly caused by the production of saliva. An additional literature review also found evidence that sugar-free gum has the ability to neutralize plaque acids and contributes to the maintenance of tooth mineralization and decreasing oral dryness.
In 2010 the ADA Council of Scientific Affairs began to recognize the contribution that chewing sugar-free gum can make to oral health. They agree that while chewing gum is not a replacement for daily flossing, brushing, and regular trips to the dentist, it can have significant benefits to your oral health.
Currently the ADA only specifies their chewing gum endorsement to sugar-free brands. Now we know that just because its sugar-free doesn’t make it good for you. A review of the products featuring the ADA Seal of Acceptance confirms the majority of these products are still sweetened with aspartame.
What is aspartame-free gum sweetened with?
Sugar-free gum is usually sweetened with a specific group of natural sweeteners called polyols or sugar alcohols. Don’t let the name alarm you though–they are only named sugar “alcohol” because part their structure looks like that of an alcohol. In truth, polyols contain no ethanol, which is the type of alcohol in beverages.
Derived from fruits, vegetables, and plant fibers sugar alcohols vary in sweetness. What makes sugar alcohols a great contender for consumption in aspartame-free gum is the way they’re metabolized. Sugar alcohols convert to glucose slower than sugar. This means they need little or no insulin to be metabolized, and they don’t cause a sudden spike of blood sugar levels making them a popular sugar alternative among diabetics.
Sugar alcohols are becoming increasingly popular among everyone these days because they provide approximately one-half to one-third fewer calories than that of sugar, and they’re naturally sourced.
How do you identify a sugar alcohol on an aspartame-free gum package? There are a few different types of sugar alcohols used in chewing gum including maltitol, isomalt, sorbitol, erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, and xylitol. In some instances, companies will combine two or more types of sugar alcohols to achieve optimal product sweetness and effectiveness. Although they’re similar, each type of sugar alcohol is unique.
Why are there sometimes two sweeteners listed?
If you’re reading the label on an aspartame-free gum package, you may notice that maltitol and sorbitol are often both present. Similar to maltitol, sorbitol is most commonly produced from cornstarch, although it is occasionally found in some fruits in small amounts.
Valued at 2.6 calories per gram, sorbitol is 60% as sweet as sugar. According to the FDA, sorbitol can only be in foods “at levels not to exceed good manufacturing practices” due to the slight laxative effect it has if consumed in excess. If the food would add fifty grams (1.75 ounces) of sorbitol to the consumer’s diet when ingested, manufacturers are required to label the product with the warning, “Excess consumption may have a laxative effect.” This is likely why many companies prefer to “mix and match” the sugar alcohols in their sugar-free products.
The two most popular members of the polyol family found in aspartame-free gum are erythritol and xylitol. Both erythritol and xylitol are found in plant fibers and certain fruits and vegetables such as corn. They’re common ingredients in aspartame-free gum because they have a unique mild cooling effect on the mouth, and xylitol tastes so similarly to sugar it’s hard to taste the difference. There is another quality of xylitol that many sugar alcohols can stand up to: xylitol is a powerful health booster and excellent component of a healthy routine.
Xylitol isn’t foreign to the human body. In fact, your body naturally produces a small amount of xylitol during the process of metabolism. For more than forty years xylitol has been researched and clinically proven to be beneficial to overall health and wellness with a concentration on oral and upper respiratory health.
Xylitol in aspartame-free gum
As an ingredient in aspartame-free gum, xylitol lends its sweet flavor and gives your mouth an extra line of defense against bacterial biofilms. Tooth decay occurs when the bacteria in the mouth metabolize sugar and then produces acid as a byproduct that eats away at tooth enamel. Chewing aspartame-free gum with xylitol not only stimulates saliva to help wash away left over food, but also helps improve oral health.
Researchers have confirmed that xylitol is an anti-adherent, meaning it inhibits bacteria that causes tooth decay from sticking around and wreaking havoc on your mouth. When the bacteria can’t stick to the teeth and gums, they can’t flourish.
When you chew a piece of aspartame-free gum with xylitol, the xylitol dually cleans the teeth and gums while gently moisturizing the sensitive oral tissues. For such a simple act, chewing aspartame-free gum regularly can have a positive lasting effect on your oral health.
At Xlear we care about your health, that’s why we’ve thoughtfully formulated our Spry aspartame-free gum to include xylitol along with other natural ingredients. We’ve carefully chosen each of our ingredients based on the quality of the source and the impact on your health.
Chewing Spry aspartame-free gum is just one part of a healthy oral care routine. To receive the greatest benefits that aspartame-free gum containing xylitol can have on the body, healthcare professionals recommend exposing your teeth to xylitol five times a day. Designed to work together, Spry’s complete line of Dental Defense products all feature xylitol as an ingredient. If you want that million-dollar smile, give Spry a try! From aspartame-free gum to toothpaste with xylitol, we make it all so you can keep on smiling!