Gum is meant to be chewed — but sometimes accidents happen.
Maybe it went down with a gulp of water…or maybe there just wasn’t anywhere to spit it out.
And you’ve probably heard that swallowed gum stays in your stomach for seven months or seven years or some other absurdly long time.
So what actually happens when you swallow gum?
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BuzzFeed Health reached out to gastroenterologist Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, D.O., associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, to find out what exactly goes down in your digestive system when you swallow your gum (and if it’s actually bad for you).
Basically, gum passes through your body just like any food — but it doesn’t get completely digested.
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“Your GI tract is very strong — if it can digest a tough steak, it can digest gum,” says Ganjhu. So you have the strong gastric movements and the acids and enzymes to break the gum down. The only difference is that the base of gum doesn’t get dissolved completely because of its chemical properties, and also the contents don’t get absorbed into the small intestine like most foods, says Ganju.
“Once it’s in, it’ll go out like everything else. There is no specific time frame because everyone’s digestive system motility is different,” says Ganjhu.
So yes, you will eventually poop it out.
No, it won’t stick to the side of your intestines or build up in a giant gum wad or anything like that. Even though it doesn’t fully dissolve, it’ll still become wrapped up in fecal matter and pass through in a bowel movement, says Ganjhu. It’s similar to swallowing teeth (or corn tbh) which can make it through your intestines pretty much intact.
The only thing you’d have to worry about “getting stuck” is if the wad is actually too large to fit through the opening of your stomach from your esophagus, though you probably wouldn’t be able to swallow a wad of gum that big in the first place.
The experts still advise against swallowing gum — but not for the reason you’d think.
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“Chewing gum has absolutely no nutritional value so most health professionals would advise against swallowing it,” says Ganjhu. Besides that, the whole point of gum is to chew it until the flavor is gone and then spit it out. “Gum won’t harm or kill you but it just isn’t logical to swallow it purposefully,” says Ganjhu.
And obviously you really shouldn’t swallow a massive wad of gum because it could get lodged in your air pipe and cause you to choke, Gangju says, but that’s the case with swallowing any large piece of food.
TL;DR: gum won’t stay inside your stomach or kill you, but you should still spit it out anyway.
So why is that myth still so popular? It’s probably a misunderstanding of the fact that you can’t fully digest gum, says Ganjhu, even though that means it doesn’t dissolve properly or get absorbed — not that it stays in your body.
“It’s just like the myth that you’ll grow an apple tree if you swallow the seeds,” says Ganju. There are a ton of health myths that just won’t die, and this is one of them.
Besides, there’s always an artist out there who has a better use for your chewed gum…
Like Douglas Coupland’s “Gumhead” in Vancouver, Canada, or the Pike Place Market “Gum Wall” in Seattle, Washington.