P Gopakumar


What is common between chewing gum and the telephone? Both were invented 1877. Both were 127 year olds now. And for the first 100 years, routinely performed the single functions for which they were devised. Twenty years ago, the handy telephone instrument, which had become a piece of family furniture, suddenly emerged from the woodwork and boosted its power and utility several times over, as an incredibly cheap international communication of words and images. Like the admirable telephone, its contemporary, chewing gum, is also undergoing a sea change. The cricket matches on TV have already familiarised viewers with the sight of Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid and Herschelle Gibbs and several other cricket players chewing the Chiclet gum, to reduce tension and promote concentration on the playfields. It has become a health aid for adults. Scientists find a great deal to chew over the fact that chewing gum can double as a cheap and effective system of delivering medicine. Gum can carry drugs. Vitamins, minerals or anti-oxidants by wrapping an active molecule in a resin that dissolves slowly enabling controlled release.

Clearly, while millions were chewing gum for a hundred year, no one had earlier considered that chewing gum could be used effectively to combat dental cavities, to deliver vaccines, to cure ear infections and blockages and even soothe ulcers. Like the phone was re-invented, thanks to digitalisation, chewing gum is fast becoming a nutraceutical. The alkaline human saliva and lack of stomach acids give drugs wrapped in it a fighting chance, because chewing gum, or chicle, is insoluble and has a prolonged stay in the mouth. It is thus better than pills when you wish to pump molecules faster into the bloodstream. Research has changed gum from a stickysweet vice into a nutraceutical. As chewing gum comes in many flavours and varieties, doctors would agree that it is better than a pill .