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Food & Drink

The benefits of chewing sugar-free gum during pregnancy

As a health economist, I have long researched and covered the economic efficiencies of various health systems. It is undeniable that thorough preventative care and healthy lifestyles are inherent components of improving the overall health situation of any country. This is why we need to promote practical health tips backed up by research, to improve the lives of patients.

When my wife was pregnant, I stocked up on a lesser-known health helper that requires neither a prescription nor a trip to the pharmacy: sugar-free gum. A study by American researchers from just last year used data from over 10,000 pregnant women in Malawi and found that those who chewed sugar-free xylitol-containing chewing gum were 25 per cent less likely to experience preterm births. On top of that, the study also found that the observed women had better oral health overall, with decreased instances of periodontal disease. The improved results are attributed to the use of xylitol, which is a natural sugar alcohol found in plants, including many fruits and vegetables, and used in chewing gum as a substitute for sugar. Unlike sugar, it does not cause tooth decay, giving sugar-free gum the advantage of increased saliva production without the downside of adversely affecting your teeth.

According to the World Health Organization, 15,000 babies each year are born prematurely or are late preterm, about 10% of births worldwide. Late preterm labour is defined in infants born between 34 and 37 weeks of gestation.

“The use of xylitol chewing gum as an intervention before 20 weeks of pregnancy reduced preterm births, and especially late preterm births between 34 and 37 weeks,” says lead study author Kjersti Aagaard, Professor of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and Vice Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Texas Children’s and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, USA. “When we analysed by birth weight, instead of estimated gestational age at delivery, we also showed a significant improvement in birth weight, with one-third fewer low birth weight babies.”

The researchers in question are moving on to other destinations to see whether these findings can be replicated. Most remarkable in these results is the fact that chewing gum is a low-cost alternative to many modern medicines, easily accessible even in markets with low purchasing power, and also very fun to use! This, paired with the findings on positive effects on memory retention, improved focus, and reduced stress, makes sugar-free chewing gum more than just a sweet treat but also a wellness product that has proven health benefits.

Fred Roeder is a health economist and the managing director of the Consumer Choice Center.