Orbit gum, made by the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company (trading on the Buenos Aires market as WWY.BA - $40.90), advertises that it whitens teeth and freshens breath.
The commercial, featuring a now-familiar perky blond actress called Janice Dickenson, shows Dickerson flashing a blinding smile and saying, "For a good clean feeling, no matter what."
Last week, that line set off my interior alarm. No matter what, I asked myself? Does that include fire, plague, civil unrest, Armageddon, serious illness or imminent death? The idea was troubling, so I decided to investigate Orbit gum’s ingredients, in case the 'no matter what' was more of a threat than a promise.
According to the always helpful WiredMagazine.com, Orbit contains maltitol, sorbitol, glycerol, aspartame, acesulfame K and sodium bicarbonate, or common baking soda. The gum part is styrene-butadiene, or the component that makes tires flexible. Orbit also contains some pine sap, but since the exact formula is protected under patent laws, the company won’t say how much.
Let’s start with maltitol, a form of corn sugar whose formulation makes it virtually indigestible. This is good news for diabetics and dieters, as the gum won’t raise blood sugar or put on pounds, but not-so-good news for those with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, since maltitol in large enough quantities irritates the bowel and causes diarrhea, bloating and gas. The acesulfame K, another calorie-free sweetening agent, is so indigestible the metabolism ignores it. The cells in your body may not be so lucky. Acesulfame K is a known carcinogen which contains methylene chloride.
Sorbitol is essentially a fruit sugar, but with the molecules manipulated so that it is half as sweet as its parent. It has the same effect as maltitol because it draws water into the large intestine - more bad news for IBS sufferers. Add to that glycerol, also known as glycerine (yes, the former ingredient in gunpowder and a byproduct of biodiesel), and you have enough sweeteners to please any sugar junkie, but watch out for the stomach symptoms. Personally, I think glycerol would be better as antifreeze.
I probably don’t even need to talk about aspartame, the lovechild of Monsanto (NYSE.MON - $75.08) and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but its dangers are also highlighted in a YouTube video which should scare the pants off anyone contemplating a pack of Orbit at the cash register.
The gum part, styrene, is essentially an elastomer, meaning that it makes things stretchy. Besides tires, it is often used as carpet backing. It emits volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and is listed as a toxic substance on the Canadian registry of substances under the Environmental Protection Act of 1999. Granted the amount in a stick of gum is miniscule, but that doesn’t make it any safer.
Whatever happened to gum from a tree, you ask? Well, it seems it’s cheaper to get gummy stuff from chemistry. Besides, there aren’t enough trees left in the world for all of the gum manufactured.
The last ingredient, sodium bicarbonate, is supposed to whiten your teeth and freshen your breath. It does both. This form of sodium is slightly abrasive, which removes stains, and highly alkaline, which reduces saliva’s normal acidity and gives any errant bacteria their walking papers.
As good as baking soda is for whitening and breath, it is hell on wheels if you have gout. It can also raise your blood pressure, even if you are healthy, since it is a form of salt. It has even been implicated in heart disease.
Once used to lower the body’s acidity to prevent kidney stones, baking soda has recently been shown to increase the formation of calcium-type stones. Not only that, but it can damage your liver, increase your need to urinate, cause headaches, ruin your appetite, cause mood changes, make you weak and tired, and - in large enough amounts - make you sick to your stomach. In fact, a recent issue of Consumer Reports states that taking baking soda to relieve acid indigestion after a large meal can cause your stomach to rupture.
All these side effects are a direct result of altering the body’s natural pH and Mother Nature is quick to let you know when you've overstepped her limits. So if you chew Orbit gum because you’re nervous, or curing a smoking addiction, try to limit yourself to three sticks a day. Either that, or switch to an all-natural gum. If you’re chewing Orbit gum to whiten your teeth, consult a dentist instead. These professionals have been trained to remove stains, plaque and tartar without putting your health in jeopardy.
Orbit's ingredients are worth the health risk, no matter what.
Disclosure: I don't own Wrigley or Monsanto stock.