Chewing over a problem Chomping on gum is GOOD for the brain and can boost alertness by 10%Tests show that reaction times amongst chewers are fasterChomping away leads to improvements in blood flow to the brainReport will be good news for celebrity chewer Sir Alex Ferguson

By
Chris Brooke

PUBLISHED:

15:15 GMT, 3 February 2013

|

UPDATED:

08:11 GMT, 4 February 2013

It’s a habit that divides opinion, but new scientific evidence reveals that chewing gum is actually good for the brain.

Chomping away boosts thinking and alertness and the study reveals reaction times among chewers are up to 10 per cent faster.

The report will be welcome news to celebrity gum chewers such as football manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who is rarely seen on the touchline without a stick of gum in his mouth.

Chomp-ian: Sir Alex Ferguson is rarely seen on the touchline without a stick of gum in his mouth

Chomp-ian: Sir Alex Ferguson is rarely seen on the touchline without a stick of gum in his mouth

The Japanese research published in the journal Brain and Cognition suggests as many as eight areas of the brain are affected by the simple act of chewing.

One theory to explain the greater performance is that chewing increases arousal and leads to temporary improvements in blood flow to the brain.

Volunteers carried out tasks while chewing and not chewing gum as their brains were scanned to see which areas were active.

During the 30-minute tests participants pressed a button with their right or left thumb in response to the direction of an arrow on a screen.

Benefits: Chewing gum increases arousal and leads to temporary improvements in blood flow to the brain

Benefits: Chewing gum increases arousal and leads to temporary improvements in blood flow to the brain

Men and women who were not chewing took 545 milliseconds to react, compared with 493 milliseconds among the chewers. The brain regions most active during chewing were those involved with movement and attention.

Professor Andy Smith of Cardiff University, a leading specialist in health-related behaviour, said: ‘The effects of chewing on reaction time are profound. Perhaps football managers arrived at the idea of chewing gum by accident, but they seem to be on the right track.’

‘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,’ said the researchers from
the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan, and other
centres.

However, research carried out last year suggested chewing gum could interfere with short-term memory.

'Scissors... scalpel... chewing gum...'

Stimulating: Chewing leads to the production of higher levels of insulin, which stimulates areas of the brain

Stimulating: Chewing leads to the production of higher levels of insulin, which stimulates areas of the brain