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FlipFact of the Day: When you were younger, you were probably told not to swallow chewing gum, because it will stick to your stomach and stay there for years. (“Seven years” seems to be the most popular number.) And while this has proven to be an effective way to keep children (and adults!) from swallowing the sticky stuff, it’s also not true.

In the old days, gum came from a type of sap extracted from the sapodilla tree called chicle. (Reminds you of a certain chewing gum brand, doesn’t it?) However, as gum grew in popularity, manufacturers had to devise ways to keep up with the increasing demand. Thus, today’s gum products use synthetic polymers as their base, with some sweeteners, softeners, preservatives, and artificial flavors thrown into the gooey mix.

It’s true that gum is mostly indigestible, but that doesn’t mean it’ll stay in your stomach if you swallow some of it. First, it passes through your esophagus and stomach. Then, it moves through your small intestine, which absorbs the sugars and other stuff in it. Whatever’s left of the gum goes through your colon, attaining, er, “freedom” in seven days or less, during your next bowel movement. Objects with a diameter smaller than 2 cm typically just pass through the digestive system without much hassle, just like other waste products that come out of your body.

That’s not to say, though, that swallowing gum is a good habit. Aside from being a possible choking hazard, wads of gum can become indigestible masses called bezoars that block your intestines.

Our advice? Just spit the gum into the wrapper; don’t let it end up in the crapper. Oh, and don’t leave it on the street or under your seat—come on, it’s basic decency.


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Cover photo: iStock

References

  • http://www.gumassociation.org/index.cfm/facts-figures/frequently-asked-questions/what-are-the-risks-of-choking-while-chewing-gum-is-swallowed/
  • https://www.businessinsider.com/worst-science-health-myths-2016-1#myth-it-takes-7-years-for-gum-to-digest-if-you-swallow-it-61
  • https://www.flipscience.ph/news/features-news/features/5-science-myths-i/
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-gum-take-to-digest#1
  • https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-chewing-gum-takes-seven-years-to-digest/