It Does Not Take “7 Years” to Digest Gum

An extremely common misconception is that if you swallow your chewing gum, it will take a minimum of seven years to digest properly. This notion comes from an old wives tale that was used by mothers to warn their children about the dangers of swallowing objects which are meant to be spat out or are otherwise harmful due to being poisonous. To further this warning, mothers would often tell their children about the horror stories of giant wads of chewing gum getting lodged within one’s gut for years upon years and in severe cases, causing blockages and health issues. Fortunately, this little nugget of folk wisdom is completely false, as chewing gum rarely stays in the system for more than a few days.

Beyond this, the understanding that gum will get stuck to your insides or wadded up is generally false as your digestive system will just pass it along. Rather, here is what actually happens when you swallow chewing gum.

  1. First off, since gum is made out of synthetic material, your teeth are not going to have any effect on the substance. Unfortunately, this is also true for the enzymes and proteins in your saliva, as these only affect the break down of food substances. This means that when you swallow the gum, it will go down in its entirety.
  2. When you swallow the gum, it travels down your esophagus until it lands in your stomach. At this point, it will mix with the digestive juices and acids that your stomach contains. The acids in your stomach are designed to break down food, so the gum resin will be unaffected.
  3. If the gum has any type of artificial sweetener, flavoring, or sugars, these will get broken down by the stomach.
  4. The gum can stick around within the stomach for quite a while, anywhere from thirty minutes to about five days. Generally, though, it will get emptied into the small intestine within thirty to ninety minutes later.
  5. The gum will travel through the digestive tract along with any other substances that can’t be broken down and will compile within the colon. Common substances that the body cannot breakdown include popcorn kernels, seeds, high-fiber items, and shell casings from nuts.
  6. The gum, along with any other waste products, will sit in your colon until your next bowel movement. This could be anywhere between 24 hours and three days after ingestion.

However, even though gum does not take seven years to digest nor does it stay within your body for anywhere close to that amount of time, chronically swallowing gum is not a good idea. Chronic gum swallowing can lead to complications like severe constipation and for those who have gastroparesis, which is when the stomach has a hard time emptying itself, can lead to a gum build up within the stomach.

The only way for something to stay in your body for that long of a time period is if it is too large in size, as this would be the only way for it to get trapped within your intestines or stomach. The only time that doctors see chewing gum within the digestive tract is when patients come in for x-ray scans and swallowed the gum they were chewing just prior to the appointment. Other than this, if you choose to swallow a lot of gum in a very short period of time, say over the course of 24-48 hours, that’s when you may find yourself with constipation as it gets accumulated in the digestive tract. All in all, a few pieces of swallowed chewing gum over your lifetime is nothing to worry about as your body will pass it like any other waste product it comes into contact with.