What Happens to Your Body If You Swallow Gum, According to a Doctor
LET'S CLEAR UP THOSE "STAYS IN YOUR BODY FOR SEVEN YEARS" RUMORS RIGHT NOW.
We've probably all heard the urban legend at some point: If you swallow gum, it stays in your system for seven years. But does it really? And where would it hang out for seven long years, exactly? Your stomach? Your colon? Far-fetched as this rumor sounds, some of us have probably lived in fear of accidentally gulping our gum, lest it remain with us for longer than many a romantic relationship.
Best Life decided to get to the bottom of this sticky subject. We contacted physician Peter Michael, MD, Chief Medical Officer of VUE, and asked him what really happens to your body if you ingest chewing gum. Read on to find out what he said—and prepare to have your bubble burst if you still believe the seven-year myth.
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Your body can't digest chewing gum.
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Most of us put our digestive systems through their paces every day by eating a variety of foods, from fruits and veggies (hopefully!) to foods that don't look particularly digestible (have you ever really looked at Takis?) Is gum really that much different?
Yes, says Michael, who explains that our bodies cannot digest gum. To understand why, let's start by looking at the composition of chewing gum.
Most gums consist of "an insoluble gum base (resins, humectants, elastomers, emulsifiers, fillers, waxes, antioxidants, and softeners), sweeteners, and flavoring agents," according to a 2018 article in the journal Natural and Artificial Flavoring Agents and Food Dyes. That gum base may be coated with a sugary outside made from "sweeteners, flavoring agents, coloring agents, and fruit acids," the authors note.
Doesn't sound particularly digestible, does it?
Most of the time, swallowing gum won't hurt you.
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In spite of this scary-sounding list of ingredients (elastomers, emulsifiers, and humectants, oh my!), Michael says that in most cases, gulping down a piece of gum isn't a big deal.
"If you swallow gum, your body cannot digest it, but the gum usually moves relatively intact through your digestive system," he reassures us. Whew.
Still, if we can't find a trash can or a scrap of paper to wrap that gooey glob in, should we go ahead and gulp it down?
Swallowing gum regularly can result in some unpleasant symptoms.
Before you make a habit of swallowing your gum after it loses its flavor, you'd be wise to heed this warning from Michael: "If you repeatedly swallow excessive amounts of gum, you may put yourself at risk of abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, chronic constipation, and mouth ulcers."
Sure, he's talking about "excessive" amounts, and doing it repeatedly—but if you're a frequent gum-chewer, it's probably best not to tempt fate. It could be a slippery slope, after all.
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An intestinal blockage due to swallowing gum is serious—but rare.
Just because Michael says that gum "usually" makes its way through our systems without causing drama, that doesn't mean there's no potential for serious consequences. "In rare cases, swallowing a lot of gum or swallowing gum with other indigestible objects may cause a blockage in the digestive tract," Michael explains.
While most of us are likely not chewing more than a piece or two of gum at a time (three at the most!), and are even less likely to be swallowing it down along with another non-food item, it's good to be aware of the signs of an intestinal blockage, which the Cleveland Clinic says is a medical emergency that may require surgery.
"Symptoms of an intestinal blockage may include abdominal pain, cramps, constipation, loss of appetite, vomiting, a feeling of extreme fullness or swelling, and inability to have a bowel movement or pass gas," Michael says.
If you experience any of those and think it could be an intestinal blockage, check in with your health care provider as soon as possible, whether or not you've been swallowing gum on the regular. (And if you have, consider keeping some scraps of paper in your pocket for easy—and safe!—gum disposal.)
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. If you have specific health questions or concerns, always consult your healthcare provider directly.