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There’s a good chance that on at least one occasion during your childhood, you were warned against swallowing chewing gum. You were probably told that if you accidentally (or purposely) swallowed your gum, it would sit intact in your stomach for seven years. But is there any truth to this well-known cautionary tale?
On the one hand, it’s true that your body can’t digest most of the ingredients in chewing gum. However, that doesn’t mean that the gum you swallowed in high school is still inside your stomach. It simply means that after your small intestine absorbs the sugars and other nutrients, the gum base will pass through your excretory system in a few days, relatively intact, just like other indigestible items like seeds and corn kernels.
As with most urban legends, however, there is a grain of truth to the “seven years” rumor. There have been rare instances of children needing emergency treatment for blocked intestines due to swallowing very large amounts of chewing gum while constipated. People with gastroparesis, or paralyzed stomach, should also be careful. However, it’s extremely unlikely that you would suffer any adverse effects from swallowing the occasional piece, though there are better ways to dispose of gum (just not on the bottom of your desk!).
Some gum facts to chew on:
- In extreme cases, consuming a large amount of chewing gum could cause nausea and headaches due to the sweeteners.
- Although its precise origins are unknown, the “seven year” myth probably stems from the fact that chewing gum’s base of synthetic polymers is indigestible.
- Chewing gum was traditionally made with chicle, which comes from the sap of the sapodilla tree, native to Central America.