Caffeine chewing gum
Caffeine is known for its ability to enhance alertness. Can caffeine chewing gum do the same?
From the Field
Does caffeinated chewing gum keep you alert? Is it the best option?
Caffeine chewing gum
Research has demonstrated that caffeine gum can be used to quickly and temporarily boost physical and mental performance when a Warfighter is short on sleep. However, it should be used only according to CMNR guidelines, and personnel who are pregnant should exercise caution using caffeine.
Caffeine’s ability to ward off fatigue and improve performance has been well documented in the scientific literature. In 1999, caffeine chewing gum caught the attention of the U.S. Congress and brought about the first federally funded research to determine its effectiveness on military performance.
Over the last decade, research on caffeine gum has shown it to be an effective aid to boost the physical and mental performance of military personnel battling fatigue and sleep deprivation. Its effects were seen in maintained reaction times, vigilance, cognitive performance, and enhanced physical endurance. Caffeine from gum is absorbed through tissues in the mouth more rapidly and efficiently than other forms of administration and thus counters fatigue more quickly. The benefits of using caffeine gum include quick and high absorption of caffeine, ease of use, accuracy of dosing, portability, and the gum’s ability to withstand extreme temperatures.
Myths and Claims
Two common beliefs about caffeine gum are that it can disrupt sleep, which affects recovery from sleep deprivation, and that its advantage over coffee and/or energy drinks comes from the act of chewing itself. Caffeine gum should not be used as a long-term substitute for sleep, and although it can disrupt sleep, eight hours of sleep should provide recovery after an extended period awake. In dire circumstances, caffeine gum temporarily restores functioning to adequate levels. Research has found that although the act of chewing gum that does not contain caffeine appears to improve mood, the addition of caffeine to gum further enhances reaction time and performance.
The Committee on Military Nutrition Research (CMNR) concluded that use of caffeine gum poses no serious risks to military personnel who may need to use caffeine to fulfill duties. However, caffeine use in extreme environments should be closely monitored to prevent dehydration. And caffeine should be used with caution during pregnancy; according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women should consume less than 200 mg/day of caffeine during pregnancy. Caffeine also may interact with many over-the-counter and prescription drugs, so that should be taken into consideration when chewing caffeinated gum. The CMNR gives detailed recommendations.
Summary for Military Translation
According to published reports, caffeine gum consumed in moderation is safe for use in common military operations. Caffeine in 100 to 600 mg doses (one to six sticks of caffeine gum) can be used to maintain cognitive performance, especially reaction speed and visual and auditory vigilance, in the case of sleep deprivation. Doses of 200-600 mg are effective to enhance endurance at high altitude. Further, caffeine gum provides accurate, rapid, and efficient delivery of caffeine. However, no more than 1000 mg should be consumed within 24 hours. The CNMR provides detailed recommendations on gum dosage based on type of performance (physical, mental, and combinations of both).
* Bottom Line Up Front
Caffeine chewing gum
- Caffeine is a well-established ergogenic aid to physical and mental performance. Restored mental and physical performance has been noted for fatigued or sleep-deprived users.
- Caffeine delivered through chewing gum is absorbed (through buccal mucosa) more rapidly (five minutes) than caffeine delivered in pill or beverage formulations (30-45 minutes).
- Caffeine can restore performance for a variety of simulated military tasks in sleep-deprived persons.
- The Committee on Military Nutrition Research from the Institute of Medicine (2001) indicated that doses of caffeine should not exceed 1000 mg per 24-hour period.
- Caffeine chewing gum confers benefits that are ideal for military performance situations: rapid absorption, ease of use, portability, accurate dosing, and ability to withstand extreme temperatures.
Caffeine in common dietary sources*
65-150mg (8 oz)
40-60mg (8 oz)
80 -200mg (8oz)
* Crude averages from select exemplars within each category
Sources: USDA Nutrient Database Library
Many military operations require optimal physical and mental functioning. Multiple scenarios demand alertness, sound judgment and decision making, and optimal physical fortitude after being awake for more than 24 hours. Interventions to combat performance decrements due to lack of sleep have included caffeine consumption. Renowned for its energizing and fatigue-combating effects, caffeine is the most popular dietary supplement consumed in the world.
Traditionally, Warfighters have been provided caffeine via the instant coffee packs in their rations. Today, caffeine can be found in many other food and beverage sources (e.g., teas, sodas, chocolate, energy bars, energy drinks) and dietary supplements. Among these dietary sources, the range of caffeine levels is broad (Table 1). For example, a stick of caffeine gum contains 50-100 mg of caffeine, as compared to 65-150mg in eight ounces of coffee or just 40-60 mg in the same amount of tea. Six ounces of most sodas contain only 20-40mg, while energy drinks contain 80-200mg in eight ounces. Chocolate varies considerably, from 8-100 mg in eight ounces. Immediate rejuvenating benefits have been noted when individuals consume moderate levels of caffeine. However, although the Food and Drug Administration has cleared caffeine as “generally recognized as safe” when consumed moderately, overconsumption may be harmful for those who are sensitive to caffeine .
When caffeine gum was introduced by Amurol Confectioners (Wrigley®), it caught the attention of military commanders, researchers, and Congress as a possible method to combat the effects of fatigue. An initiative to examine the effects of caffeinated gum on military performance was funded by Congress in 1999. Caffeine has the ability to ward off the harmful consequences of fatigue and lack of sleep and, delivered in this manner, has benefits particularly suited for military duties. This solution, albeit temporary, is particularly relevant to the continuous demands of military service. Although research on caffeine’s impact on performance has been around for years, only recent research trials have investigated the effectiveness of caffeine gum on military performance .
This brief will summarize research on the unique impact of caffeinated chewing gum on physical and mental performance in military populations and present recommendations put forth by the Committee on Military Nutrition Research (CMNR) .
Facts and Evidence
Constant vigilance and night missions are part of military duties and require optimal alertness and physical readiness. Research has extensively documented the deleterious impact of fatigue and lack of sleep on physical performance and decision making. Caffeine has long been a staple of the Armed Forces to combat fatigue. In 1832, coffee was traded out for rum and whiskey allowances and has been part of Army rations ever since. In fact, “tactical caffeine use” via caffeine gum is a noted countermeasure of fatigue in aviation . Today, the First Strike Rations® include caffeinated gum (Stay Alert®, NSN #8925-01-530-1219) in Army supply channels .
Caffeine pathway & formulation effectiveness. Caffeine ingested in beverages and pills is primarily absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract, after which it travels through the blood and is taken up by various tissues. Caffeine readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, where it binds to adenosine receptors, which facilitate increased neuron firing . Although the absorption rates are similar between capsule and gum formulations, orally ingested caffeine (including coffee formulations) takes 30-45 minutes to achieve maximum absorption. In contrast, caffeinated chewing gum is unique in that 90% of a 200 mg dose is absorbed within five minutes . On average, in dosages ranging from 50mg to 200mg, caffeine is absorbed one-and-a-half to three times more rapidly from gum than from a capsule . This rapid absorption is due to caffeine’s easy passage through the vascular tissues in the buccal mucosa [8, 9]. This enhanced absorption allows for caffeine to more rapidly counter fatigue-related threats to performance.
Mental & physical performance. Studies have been conducted to investigate caffeine’s effects on cognitive performance under simulated military operations [10-12]. One study performed on Navy SEAL trainees showed that ingestion of caffeine (200 mg) improved visual vigilance, fine motor control, reaction time, mood, learning, and memory, while it reduced fatigue and sleepiness . Cognitive performance, specifically vigilance and accuracy, was maintained after 55 hours of wakefulness when caffeine gum was administered every two hours during the early morning . This sustained impact suggests that chewing caffeine gum might yield dual absorption sites: buccally and through the gastrointestinal tract due to the swallowing of caffeine-containing saliva. Another study  found that use of caffeine by military participants who were sleep deprived for more than 24 hours sustained vigilance, alertness, rapid recognition of target, quickness in firing a weapon, and overall observational and reconnaissance responsibilities in urban operations environments. Similarly, caffeine gum enhanced vigilance and running times in Special Forces during overnight operations . These studies have shown that caffeine gum could be used in military settings to maintain peak physical and mental performance in Warfighters despite significant sleep loss.
Formulations. Research has demonstrated the added effects of chewing caffeine gum over other formulations [8, 17]. According to renowned caffeine-performance expert Dr. Gary Kamimori, caffeine gum is the perfect formulation to deliver caffeine to troops in combat due to its rapid and high bioavailability, ease of use, accurate dosing, portability, lack of need for another agent (such as water) for activation, and ability to tolerate extreme temperatures (from freezing to 120°F/50°C) .
Mechanics of chewing. An alternate explanation for the positive performance results of caffeine chewing gum is that the act of chewing itself facilitates relaxation, alertness, and overall better cognitive performance. Studies have found mixed results. The most recent study on chewing with caffeine gum versus a placebo gum found that the act of chewing gum alone does indeed improve mood, but adding caffeine enhances reaction time and performance . Another study  reported similar findings with significant improvements in speed, accuracy, and cognitive tasks over time for those who chewed caffeinated gum compared to those who chewed a placebo gum.
The Committee on Military Nutrition Research (CMNR) recommends the following cautions be considered:
- Use of caffeine under conditions of sustained military operations does not appear to pose any serious, irreversible, acute, or chronic health risks for military personnel in situations where increased doses might be recommended.
- Caffeine use in sustained operations in hot or cold environments or at high altitudes may increase the risk of dehydration, so fluid and food intake of personnel should be closely monitored in these situations.
- Caffeine should be used with caution throughout pregnancy; a 2010 report from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that pregnant women should have less than 200 mg/day of caffeine throughout their pregnancy .
- Caffeine also may interact with many over-the-counter and prescription drugs, so that should be taken into consideration when chewing caffeinated gum [23,24].
Other side effects of concern relate to sleep recovery following a period of sustained wakefulness. Caffeine gum should not be considered a substitute for sleep, but in dire circumstances it can sustain performance temporarily. Sleep can be disrupted by caffeine use, but after an extended wakeful episode, one should recover with eight hours of sleep .
Caffeine delivered through gum can confer multiple beneficial effects on the performance of individuals battling fatigue and sleep deprivation beyond the effectiveness of non-caffeinated chewing gum and other caffeine formulations. Administering caffeine through gum allows military personnel to perform at the requisite level or beyond when sufficient sleep is not possible .
Scientific authorities have weighed in on the use of caffeine in military performance. The CNMR  convened a panel of experts who presented recommendations for caffeine use for military performance:
Caffeine in doses of 100–600 mg may be used to maintain cognitive performance, particularly in situations of sleep deprivation. Specifically, it can be used to maintain speed of reactions and visual and auditory vigilance, which in military operations could affect a life-or-death situation.
A similar dose range (200–600 mg) of caffeine is also effective to enhance physical endurance and may be especially useful to restore some of the physical endurance lost at high altitude.
Based on the best scientific evidence available in the United States and Canada, the current instructions for chewing caffeine gum by the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Military Nutrition Research  are as follows:
- General use. Chewing one or two sticks of gum for five minutes and then discarding the gum has been shown to deliver 85% of the total caffeine dose in each stick. Each stick contains 100 mg of caffeine.
- Regular caffeine users may have to slightly increase their dose to achieve the same benefits.
- Do not exceed 10 sticks (1,000 mg) in a 24-hour period.
- Mental performance. In a rested state, start with one stick and chew more as needed to maintain alertness. In a sleep-deprived state, no more than two sticks every two hours for up to six hours should be consumed.
- Physical performance. Chew two sticks for five minutes, followed immediately by another two sticks prior to beginning the initial activity. Re-dose with one stick after six hours for subsequent hard work.
- Physical followed by mental performance. Use four sticks for physical performance prior to initial activity. To maintain cognitive performance after the physical effort, chew one stick if required but no more than 10 sticks in a 24-hour period.
- Mental followed by physical performance. In a rested state, chew a total of four sticks within two hours of the exercise. In a sleep-deprived state, where multiple sticks of gum already have been chewed within a four-hour period, additional sticks of gum may not be required to optimize physical performance.
Caffeine chewing gum
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- Committee on Military Nutrition Research, F.a.n.B.I.o.M., Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Performance. 2001: Washington, DC. p. 1-157.
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- Lieberman, H.R., et al., Effects of caffeine, sleep loss, and stress on cognitive performance and mood during U.S. Navy SEAL training. Sea-Air-Land. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 2002. 164(3): p. 250-61.
- Kamimori, G.H., et al., Multiple caffeine doses maintain vigilance during early morning operations. Aviat Space Environ Med, 2005. 76(11): p. 1046-50.
- McLellan, T.M., et al., Caffeine Maintains Vigilance and Marksmanship in Simulated Urban Operations with Sleep Deprivation. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 2005. 76: p. 39-45.
- McLellan, T.M., et al., Caffeine Maintains Vigilance and Improves Run Times During Night Operations for Special Forces. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 2005. 76: p. 647-654.
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