Swallowing gum: is it serious?

You may have heard of that urban legend that swallowed chewing gum stays in the stomach for seven years. But is it true? Chewing gum sales are around $25 billion worldwide, so some of the chewing gum pieces are bound to end up in stomachs around the world.

What should you do if this happens to you?

Don’t panic: People have been chewing a form of “chewing gum” for centuries, long before the product we know as chewing gum began. The gummy resin found in the bark of certain trees was already used as chewing material in ancient times.

Many gummies these days are made from a synthetic gum base, a thick, sticky substance that serves to hold the gum’s ingredients together. While your body’s enzymes can break down and digest some of the gum’s ingredients, such as sweeteners, the gum base itself moves, mostly intact, through your digestive system.

What to do next ?

There’s not much you can, or should, do once you’ve swallowed some gum. There are other foods that we eat that our bodies cannot fully digest, such as the outer layers of corn kernels.

What can be absorbed will be, and the rest of the gum mass will find its way out of your body into the stool in less than a week. Most of the time, ingesting chewing gum is completely harmless, but there have been rare cases where chewing gum has blocked the intestines.

The main indicators of this blockage are stomach discomfort and constipation. This blockage only occurs if a large amount of chewing gum is swallowed in a short time, or if the chewing gum becomes entangled with other indigestible foods, such as sunflower seeds.

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In short, swallowing a piece of gum once in a while is harmless. And while it’s not recommended, if you accidentally swallow instead of spit it out, it’s not something to worry about, at least not until age seven.


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