redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
While typical causes of headaches include stress, lack of sleep, heat, noise, sunlight and eyestrain, new research published in the journal Pediatric Neurology has uncovered a potential new trigger for migraines in teenagers: chewing gum.
The study, which was led by Dr. Nathan Watemberg of the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Meir Medical Center, found that 26 out of 30 headache patients (87 percent) reported “significant improvement” after they stopped chewing gum, including 19 of which reported “complete headache resolution,” the doctor explained in a statement Thursday.
Furthermore, 20 of the patients who experienced improvement during the study, which took place at Meir Medical Center’s Child Neurology Unit and Child Development Center and in community clinics, agreed afterwards to resume their gum-chewing habits. Every single one reported “an immediate relapse of symptoms,” Dr. Watemberg said.
Headaches are common during childhood, and increase in frequency during adolescence, especially among girls, the researchers said. Little medical research had been conducted on the relationship between gum chewing and headaches, and as Dr. Watemberg previously discovered during dental studies, teenage girls were found to be especially avid gum chewers.
The investigators asked the 30 gum-chewing patients, all of whom were between the ages of six and 19 and suffered chronic migraines, to kick the habit for one month. Those individuals had chewed gum for between one to six hours per day, and after a month without chewing gum, nearly two-thirds of them reported the headaches had entirely disappeared and seven others reported a decrease in the frequency and intensity of the headaches.
“Two previous studies linked gum chewing to headaches, but offered different explanations,” the university said. “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.”
The doctor said that he believes the TMJ explanation is more likely. Since gum only maintains its flavor for a brief period of time, it would appear that it does not contain high levels of aspartame, he explained.
If the artificial sweetener did cause headaches, Dr. Watemberg said that there would be far more headaches resulting from consumption of diet soft drinks and other, similar products. However, since most people chew gum even after it loses its flavor, it suggests that doing so places a noteworthy burden on the already heavily-used joint.
“Every doctor knows that overuse of the TMJ will cause headaches. I believe this is what’s happening when children and teenagers chew gum excessively,” the doctor said. He added that the study’s findings could be used right away, allowing teenagers suffering from chronic headaches with immediate and effective treatment without requiring time-consuming and expensive diagnostic tests and/or the use of prescription medication.