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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 15:16 GMT
Chew your way to a better brain
Chewing gum
Chewing any type of gum stimulates brain activity
Chewing gum may help to make people smarter by improving memory and brain performance, research suggests.

In tests, scientists found the ability to recall remembered words improved by 35% among people who chewed gum.

However, contrary to popular belief, they say it does not aid concentration.

The scientists from the University of Northumbria, in Newcastle upon Tyne, cannot explain why memory is affected, but are working on two theories.

Maybe evolution provided this mechanism for completely different reasons and this rather bizarre habit of chewing gum is tapping into them

Dr Andrew Scholey, psychologist
One is that chewing raises the heart beat, which causes more oxygen and nutrients to be pumped into the brain.

The other is that it triggers the production of insulin, which stimulates a part of the brain involved in memory.

Dr Andrew Scholey, who carried out the study, said: "When you chew, the body releases insulin, which is probably a conditioned response that occurs in anticipation of a meal.

"We know the brain contains receptors for insulin, molecular docking points that bind onto the insulin molecule.

"Although their function isn't well-known, we know they are fairly densely packed in the hippocampus which is crucial for memory."

Three groups of 25 volunteers took part in the study and were divided into non, real and "sham" chewers .

Imaginary gum

One group chewed gum, a second group sat in a quiet room without chewing, while a third "sham" group was asked to pretend to chew with nothing in their mouths.

Prior to undergoing the 25-minute test, the two chewing groups spent three minutes working their real or imaginary gum around their mouths.

The tests included questions relating to short-term memory, such as recalling words and pictures, and so-called working memory, for example the ability to retain a person's telephone number.

He said the heart rate of the real chewers after the tests was three beats per minute faster than the non-chewers, and 1.5 beats per minute faster than the "sham" chewers.

The "sham" group generally performed better than the "quiet room" group.

Dr Scholey said working memory was also significantly improved by chewing, but not to the same extent as long-term memory.

Everyday life

Trying to assess why chewing has such an impact on the human body may be in our genes, says Dr Scholey.

He said: "Maybe evolution provided this mechanism for completely different reasons and this rather bizarre habit of chewing gum is tapping into them."

The team is now looking to see whether chewing gum has an impact on memory in every day life.

The researchers are testing people's ability to put names to faces and remember shopping lists and tasks that have to be done.

Some campaigners are concerned that certain types of chewing gum contain the artificial sweeter aspartame, which has been linked to brain conditions.

Click here to go to Tyne
See also:

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