Chances are you’ve heard the admonition to not swallow that wad of gum or it’ll stay in your digestive tract for up to seven years. Maybe there’s no garbage can in sight so instead of sticking the gum to the underside of a table, you simply swallow it; problem solved. But is the wad of Big League Chew® you ate during the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone still dissolving in your gut? Gastroenterologist Josh Vandersteen has answers.
Chewing gum is made with flavoring agents, sweetener, coloring and a gum base made with chicle sap (a natural form of rubber) or synthetic resins or gums. Because of the resilience of chewing gum, it’s easy to think that the body cannot digest it. But it can! The GI tract is very strong, if it can digest a tough steak, it can digest a piece of gum. The difference between gum and other foods is that the stomach’s strong acids and enzymes can’t fully break it down. In addition, the contents don’t get absorbed into the small intestines like most foods do.
So throw out the idea of a giant gum wad nestled in your belly. Chewing gum doesn’t fully dissolve going down the tract, but it still gets wrapped in fecal matter and passed through a bowel movement.
So it’s okay if I swallow my gum?
That’s still not the best idea. What chronic gum swallowing can do is lead to constipation or, in rare occasions, it can get lodged in your air pipe and present a choking risk. So next time your Trident®’s out of flavor and you’re tempted to swallow it, why not discard it in the wrapper it came in?
TL;DR: Chewing gum won’t stay inside your stomach or kill you, but you should still spit it out anyway.