Chewing is good for the brain
The purpose of mastication is to grind up food and mix it with saliva to facilitate swallowing and digestion. Since the beginning of the last century, it is believed to also help control stress levels and improve brain performance. What therefore is the impact of a reduction in the capacity to masticate on our health?
In the uterus, the fetus already chews its umbilical cord, thus contributing to its own brain development. With age, oral health deteriorates; loss of teeth and decreased salivation are added to weakened health and bring their own set of problems, with consequences that require to be assessed.
More than a hundred scientific studies on the subject have been analyzed and provide us with some answers. Cognitive functions such as memory, language and learning seem to be affected. Loss of dentition, reduced mastication and lack of dental care are associated with a larger number of Alzheimer’s dementia cases. Moreover, chewing stimulates salivation and helps avoid an imbalance of our oral flora (or dysbiosis). This imbalance is sometimes found in some diseases such as schizophrenia. Finally, poor oral health combined with oral dysbiosis, promotes, in addition to malnutrition, the passage into the blood of some “bad” bacteria, which preferentially target the heart.
Mastication stimulates the brain
Some studies describe the short-term effects of mastication and show that it is associated with an improvement in short-term memory and calculation abilities. The supply of glucose to the brain and an increased cardiac rhythm could play a role in this phenomenon. Its long-term impact is analyzed by imaging techniques: increased cerebral activity has been observed in some brain areas, especially those involved in movement and attention. An American researcher has even shown that the number of natural teeth could be correlated with hippocampus stimulation, a long-term memory area. It is currently considered that around twenty teeth are enough for effective mastication, but it is premature to recommend chewing (pencil, fingers, chewing-gum, licorice stick…) to our elders: in some of them mastication is already defective. It must first be determined whether chewing improves cognition and health or whether cognitive disorders have a negative impact on mastication. Improving oral health and preserving good-quality mastication seem essential for our brain and our health in general.
S. Miquel, M. Aspiras, et J. E. L. Day. Does reduced mastication influence cognitive and systemic health during aging? Physiol. Behav., vol. 188, p. 239‑250, mai 2018.