What Really Happens When You Swallow Gum, According to a Doctor
Most people have been fed a raft of urban legends about all the bad things that happen when you swallow gum. I should have a chewing gum tree the size of a sequoia inside of me by now, according to such stories.
To finally get to the bottom of some of the myths about what happens when your gum winds up going all the way down your piehole, we enlisted the help of Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, a gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. She graciously tolerated -- and even dispelled! -- all of our misconceptions about gum.
Myth: Gum cannot be digestedTruth: “It’s hard to to say, because everything is different based on its chemical makeup. And every body is obviously different. The more processed things are, the more difficult it is to digest. The less natural, the longer it takes to digest.”
Myth: Sugarless gum is harder on your digestive systemTruth: “No, it doesn’t really make a difference from that standpoint. Gum in general is not a natural form. When exactly it gets digested is hard to say, because I don’t think anyone has taken a deep look to see the pieces of gum in your stool.”
Myth: Gum stays in your stomach for seven yearsTruth: “It’s a good urban myth type of thing, seven years is always a good number to pick up, I guess. But no, it’s not a static number. If you swallowed a piece of gum when you were 7, it’s not still going to be stuck in there somewhere.”
Myth: A chewing gum tree will absolutely grow inside of youTruth: [Laughter, followed by more laughter] (We took that as a hard no.)
Myth: Parts of gum get stuck in you foreverTruth: “There are rare instances that it can accumulate and get stuck, but that could mean you don’t have a normal digestive tract to begin with. When you’re chewing gum long enough, it gets hard; ultimately all of the acidity and chemicals in our body will harden it and break it into smaller and smaller pieces, and eventually it will get wrapped up in the stool and you poop it out.
“One analogy you can look at is popcorn kernels, or corn in general. You may notice that you can see corn in your stool, completely undigested. If you were to swallow gum and take a look inside your stomach it’s hard to gauge when it will break down, but it’s also not going to stick around you stomach. It’s going to eventually get hard and move out, and become smaller pieces that get wrapped up in a tool and come out. There’s nothing to get absorbed from it, there’s no nutritional value. It eventually gets small enough to pass through your digestive track.”
Myth: Swallowing more gum increases chances for damageTruth: “If you ate 50 pieces of gum and it all becomes one giant ball, I mean, I don’t think anything good could come from that. You don’t really know what could happen, but eventually everything passes through. Nothing really gets hung up in there.”
Myth: So, basically doctors think it’s totally fine if you swallow gumTruth: “It’s not logical. Don’t swallow gum. Just spit it out when you’re done.”
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Liz Newman is a freelance writer for Thrillist, and does not regret swallowing lots of grape-flavored Big League Chew during her childhood because it just was so damn tasty. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @lizn813.