A new study suggests chewing gum might be good for concentration.

In a recent study out of Baylor College of Medicine, researchers found that chewing gum may have a positive effect on academic performance in teenagers.

In this study, students who chewed gum demonstrated an increased in standardized math test scores and final grades were better compared to those who didn’t chew gum. After 14 weeks of chewing gum during math class and while doing homework, chewing gum was associated with a 3% increase in standardized math test scores.

Prior research has shown that chewing gum may help reduce stress, ease anxiety and enhance alertness. Given that most schools have a “no eating or chewing gum” policy, it may be time to rethink that strategy. But more than that, we’d like to offer a few alternatives to your typical grocery store chewing gum offerings.

One of the obvious “concerns” with mainstream chewing gum is sugar. Sugar in candy and gum has been linked to an increased risk of dental caries (cavities). Sugar-free versions of gum usually contain Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners (and artificial coloring) and there is enough evidence to suggest Aspartame ingestion isn’t a very smart idea.

Long-term Aspartame intake has been linked to lymphoma and leukemia in animals. Aspartame has also been linked to headaches, depression, weight gain, nausea, insomnia, blurred vision, blindness and other eye problems, memory loss, vertigo, slurred speech, depression, personality changes, hyperactivity, stomach disorders, seizures, skin lesions, rashes, anxiety attacks, muscle cramping and joint pain, loss of energy, symptoms mimicking heart attacks, hearing loss and ear ringing, and loss or change of taste.

While this list is likely to raise the hair on your backs, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this sweetener and one would be wise to look into the research to decide whether or not you choose to have Aspartame in your diet.

One sweetener called Xylitol is an alternative to Aspartame and is used in many brands of sugarfree gum. The problem is that most of the mainstream brands that use Xylitol continue to use Aspartame in the same product. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that can be found in fruits and vegetables and can be produced in the human body – and for those reasons it may be considered a “natural sweetener.” Preliminary research suggests that Xylitol chewing gum can help prevent ear infections (the act of chewing and swallowing helps with the removal of earwax and clearing the middle ear.

Xylitol also has an antibacterial quality, which may prevent the growth of bacteria in the Eustachian tubes. Research also suggests that Xylitol may help prevent cavities, again due to its antibacterial action. A word of caution is that Xylitol can be toxic in dogs so be sure to keep it away from your furry friends.

Gum chewing isn’t for everyone. For one thing, the potential for TMJ (temporomandibular joint) problems increases with gum chewing. Chewing gum can also have a negative impact on orthodontic appliances like braces and for that and other reasons 40%-50% of orthodontists tend not to recommend chewing gum.

Chewing gum should never replace healthy dental habits like flossing and brushing teeth. Proper gum chewing etiquette such as keeping the mouth closed while chewing is also recommended.

Here are a few resources for Aspartame-free sugarless gum. Consider asking your local grocer to stock up:

BFresh Gum: BFreshgum.com
Glee Gum – available at natural food stores and online.
Spry – available at natural food stores and online at XclearInc.com/Spry.
Peelu Gum – Available at most natural food stores.
Zellies – http://www.zellies.com