Health News of Saturday, 21 December 2013
Some 87 per cent of gum-chewing teenagers who suffer regular headaches can cure themselves by giving up chewing gum, new research suggests.
Scientists at the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Meir Medical Centre, in Israel, found that most adolescents who give up the habit experience significant relief.
The scientists, led by Dr Nathan Watemberg, believe the finding could allow doctors to cure thousands of patients of migraines and tension headaches without the need for additional tests or medication.
‘Out of our 30 patients, 26 reported significant improvement and 19 had complete headache resolution,’ said Dr Watemberg.
‘20 of the improved patients later agreed to go back to chewing gum, and all of them reported an immediate relapse of symptoms.’
Headaches are common in childhood and become more common and frequent during adolescence, particularly among girls.
Typical triggers are stress, tiredness, lack of sleep, heat, video games, noise, sunlight, smoking, missed meals, and menstruation.
But until now there has been little medical research on the relationship between gum chewing and headaches.
At Meir Medical Centre's Child Neurology Unit and Child Development Centre, Dr Watemberg noticed that many patients who reported headaches were daily gum chewers.
Dr Watemberg found that in many cases, when patients stopped chewing gum at his suggestion, they got substantially better.
Taking a more statistical approach, he asked 30 patients between six and 19 years old, who had chronic migraine or tension headaches and chewed gum daily, to quit chewing gum for one month.
They had chewed gum for at least an hour a day and some had chewed for more than six hours a day.
After a month without gum, 19 of the 30 patients reported that their headaches went away entirely and seven reported a decrease in the frequency and intensity of headaches.
To test the results, 20 of them agreed to resume gum chewing for two weeks. All of them reported a return of their symptoms within days.
Two previous studies linked gum chewing to headaches, but offered different explanations.
One study suggested that gum chewing causes stress to the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ - the place where the jaw meets the skull.
The other study blamed aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in most popular chewing gums.
TMJ dysfunction has been shown to cause headaches, while the evidence is mixed on aspartame. Dr Watemberg favours the TMJ explanation.
Gum only has a flavour for a short period of time, suggesting it does not contain much aspartame, he says.
If aspartame caused headaches, he reasons, there would be a lot more headaches from diet drinks and artificially sweetened products which also contain it.
On the other hand, people chew gum well after the taste is gone, putting a significant burden on the TMJ, which is already the most used joint in the body, he says.
‘Every doctor knows that overuse of the TMJ will cause headaches,’ said Dr Watemberg. ‘I believe this is what's happening when children and teenagers chew gum excessively.’