If you’ve ever chewed on a piece of gum, the chances are you’ve been told “Don’t swallow chewing gum, it will sit in your stomach for 7 years before it gets digested!” But have you ever wondered whether this is actually true? What happens if you swallow chewing gum, and does it really take almost a decade to digest in your system?
This is what happens if you swallow chewing gum…
· It can’t be properly digested by the body
It is an age-old myth that, if you swallow chewing gum, it will stay in your body for almost a decade. Even though it is true that if you do swallow some gum, your body may struggle to digest the ingredients used in chewing gum.
Your gastrointestinal tract is very strong and can break down pretty much anything thanks to strong acids and enzymes in our bodies. But the only difference between chewing gum and normal foods is that it is a struggle for the ingredients to get dissolved completely because of their chemical properties. The ingredients also don’t get absorbed into the small intestine like most food, because there are simply no nutrients and minerals from chewing gum.
Once it gets swallowed, it will continue to pass through your digestive system whilst staying intact – just like any other food – and come out of the body around three days later (although this time-frame may vary from person to person).
Photo credit: Africa Studio / Shutterstock
· It can cause health complications
Although swallowing chewing gum won’t harm you, there are some health risks that come with it – especially if you have swallowed large quantities in a short period of time.
Children in particular are more likely than adults to experience any health complications due to swallowing chewing gum. According to the Mayo Clinic, “swallowing too much gum can cause a blockage in a child’s intestines, especially if they are already experiencing constipation”.
There have been a few cases in which children have developed intestinal blockages due to swallowing multiple pieces of chewing gum in a short time-frame or, in some rare cases, gum that has connected itself to other non-food objects to form a larger obstruction which increases the chance of a blockage. These obstructions can cause severe pain, vomiting and constipation.
Not to mention, chewing gum can also be a choking hazard for young children too. As a result, it is advisable to avoid giving your child chewing gum until they fully understand the importance of not swallowing it and realise the difference between gum and sweets – around age 5 is sensible.
Should I go to the doctor if I swallow gum?
If you swallow chewing gum, there is often no reason to see a doctor as it should pass through your body normally. But if you are concerned, it is worth popping into your local pharmacy for some advice.
However, if you have swallowed a large amount of chewing gum in a short period of time, or if you have swallowed chewing gum with other indigestible objects, it may result in a blockage. This could require surgery to remove it, so if you think you have an intestinal blockage, it is advisable to see your doctor.
Feature image credit: Jiri Hera / Shutterstock