Sure, it causes embarrassing digestive problems and makes you look like a Valley girl. But gum manufacturers (and some gum-manufacturer-funded scientific studies) claim that chewing the stuff makes you healthy—and some companies are experimenting with ways to boost those health claims by adding “functional” ingredients meant to suppress appetite, cure headaches, and even fight cancer. As the L.A. Times reports (registration required), recent studies on regular ol’ gum show that chewing it can reduce bacteria in the mouth, improve mental clarity, and even help heal the colon after surgery.

The really interesting (and/or frightening) part, though, is the early-stage research being done on nutraceutical gum, which would likely deliver medications and supplements more effectively than swallowable pills. According to the article,

One reason for gum’s potential is that our cheeks are remarkably good at soaking things up. In a study published in 2006 in the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Danish scientists found that people absorbed nearly three times as much of an antihistamine called loratadine when they chewed it as a gum instead of taking it as a tablet. About 40 percent of the medicine entered the bloodstream straight through the lining of the mouth—whereas pills have to work their way through the digestive system.

Hmmm. So using gum as a vehicle for vitamins and supplements would administer them more reliably (thus dealing with the problem of expensive pee). But then, there are some things it’s probably best not to absorb too much of.

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