You were probably told when you were a kid that under no circumstances whatsoever should you swallow your gum. When you swallow your gum, it literally stays in your stomach for the rest of your life and turns into a stone. If this sounds like a lie your parents made just to get you to not swallow your gum, it's because it is.
But what really happens when you swallow your gum? And is it really that bad for you? We've all probably done it at least once in our lives. Do we now have a gum seed living inside our stomachs, and will it eventually grow into a gum tree inside our bellies?
Yes, your digestive system can digest gum. “Your GI tract is very strong, if it can digest a tough steak it can digest gum," says Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, a gastroenterologist from the NYU Langone Medical Center. But what exactly happens on your gum's journey through your body?
Let's start at the beginning of the digestive process - chewing. You know, it's where chewing gum get's half of it's name from. As part of the process of chewing, your body releases enzymes or proteins contained in your saliva that help you break down the very food you are chewing. Gum, the resilient bastard that it is, doesn't break down the way actual food food does.
Normally, this would be the point in the process where you would spit out said gum. But if you go past the point of no return and swallow that baby, your going to swallow a massive wad of gum, as it doesn't get broken down by your teeth and saliva. And so, the gum travels into your stomach in one solid, sticky clump.
When your gum moves into your stomach, your stomach then attempts to further break down the gum. Your stomach churns the gum with digestive enzymes in a futile attempt to turn the gum into nutrients that will fuel your body. It's an impossible task, but your poor stomach tries nonetheless, and that's what counts, right?
So why can't gum be converted into food the way your body so badly is trying to make happen? It's because gum is magic, and by magic we mean rubber. Gum has a rubber base - either natural or synthetic rubber - which makes it so wonderfully chewable but so impossible to digest.
Butyl rubber is a common ingredient in gum used to make it so chewable. It's a both fun and horrifying fact that butyl rubber is also used in basketballs and tires. So even if you can theoretically swallow your gum, why would you want to?
After your stomach has had it's way with the gum, it is then passed to the small intestine. There, your gum is - you guessed it - also not dissolved by your intestines. Man, this gum stuff really is resilient.
Eventually it will, er, pass from your body, just like anything else you've swallowed - food or otherwise. “Once it’s in, it’ll go out like everything else," said Dr. Ganjhu. “There is no specific time frame because everyone’s digestive system motility is different.”
But exactly how long does it take for you to pass gum? David Milov of the Nemours Children's Clinic deals with colonoscopies on the regs, and he says that he normally never comes across gum that is more than a week old. So while seven years isn't true, seven days may be more like it.
"On occasion we'll see a piece of swallowed gum, but usually it's not something that's any more than a week old, says Milov. Furthermore, Milov says that if gum actually did stay in your body for seven years like your parents scared you into thinking, "that would mean that every single person who ever swallowed gum within the last seven years would have evidence of the gum in the digestive tract." But it's still gross to think that he comes across gum at all.
Rodger Liddle, a gastroenterologist at the Duke University School of Medicine, concurs. "Nothing would reside that long, unless it was so large it couldn't get out of the stomach or it was trapped in the intestine," says Liddle. For example, if you swallowed a quarter, you'd pass it out of your body. If you swallowed a larger coin (like a silver dollar, maybe?) or a larger object, you might end up with it stuck inside you. Yuck!