Make no bones about it!
Are you surprised that the act of chewing can have a significant effect on your bone health? Well, as you learned in the previous article of our chewing series, chewing helps relieve stress, and in doing so, indirectly affects bone health. Here’s how.
How does stress impact bone health?
There are a variety of mechanisms in which chewing reduces chronic stress, in turn leading to reduced bone loss. Studies have shown that under chronic stress, chewing prevents an increase in stress hormones that would otherwise disrupt bone formation and increase bone loss (1). Chronic stress reduces the process of bone formation from osteoblasts, causing bone loss. Additionally, stress and depression promote the activation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis and the release of glucocorticoids, which both cause bone loss and prevent bone growth. Chewing interferes with these stress-induced processes, reducing the risk for osteoporosis (2).
A study done on mice showed that chewing while under chronic stress significantly prevented bone loss compared with mice that did not chew. This indicates that chewing protects against osteoporosis due to its ability to interfere with the effects of stress (2).
How does chewing improve your teeth?
As far as those pearly whites (teeth) go, chewing is good for them, too! Salivary duct cells secrete alkaline-rich potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which protect tooth enamel, and proline-rich proteins that help with the formation of enamel. Chewing stimulates salivary secretion, which helps form the bolus (the mash of food producing by chewing) and assists in proper swallowing. Saliva also acts as a buffer and helps protect tooth enamel from acids, which may erode it. Chewing controls both the stimulus and the rate of salivation (3). Plus, chewing exercises your gums and the bones of your teeth.
How does chewing reduce malnutrition?
If you are worried about your bone health, chewing is an inexpensive and practical alternative for preventing and reducing osteoporosis risk. Chewing ensures that nutrients that are necessary for bone health can be obtained from the food we eat. One study by Laudisio, et al. has shown that chewing dysfunction leads to malnutrition, which can be a major cause of osteoporosis, especially in older populations. This study showed that nearly half of the older population had some form of chewing dysfunction, highlighting the physiological importance of comfort while chewing and emphasizing the need to prevent chewing dysfunction in older populations (4).
But if you are still not convinced that chewing is good for you in almost every way, then consider how chewing aids in optimizing digestion and absorption of food so that nutrients necessary for bone health are readily available. Learn more about this in the last of our chewing article series in our upcoming post: Something to Chew On.
Better Gut Tip: For the first 4 bites of food you eat, try counting how many times you chew before swallowing. You are ready to swallow when the texture of your food is very soft or liquified.
- Kubo K, Iinuma M, Chen H. Mastication as a Stress-Coping Behavior. BioMed Research International. 2015:1-11.
- Azuma K, Furuzawa M, Fujiwara S, et al. Effects of Active Mastication on Chronic Stress-Induced Bone Loss in Mice. Int J Med Sci. 2015;12(12):952–957. doi: 10.7150/ijms.13298
- Pedersen AM, Bardow A, Beier Jensen S, Nauntofte B. Saliva and gastrointestinal functions of taste, mastication, swallowing and digestion. Oral Diseases. 2002;8(3):117–129. DOI: 10.1034/j.1601-0825.2002.02851.
- Laudisio A, et al. Masticatory dysfunction is associated with osteoporosis in older men. Clinical Periodontology. 2007;34(11):964–968.