You’ve probably, at one time or another, been warned not to swallow your gum because “it will stay in the stomach for seven years.” Really? Seven years? Is this just an urban myth, created by over protective mothers who don’t want their children to chew gum to begin with, or does gum really contain the kinds of chemical that can take nearly a decade to digest? What kind of havoc could a piece of gum cause on the body if it stays around for that period of time? This article discusses the truth behind the myth that gum stays in your stomach for years.
A Brief History of Gum
Research has found that chewing gum began as early as seven thousand years ago–in fact, recently lumps of tar have been found with human teeth marks in them, suggestive of early chewing gum. The gum that you are familiar with today began roughly in the 1860s, when an exiled Mexican general by the name of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anta first introduced it to businessman Thomas Adams, who then began producing it in earnest in the United States. Gum increased in popularity–and now, it is one of the most common types of candies available to the public.
The Digestive System
The digestive system was created to first dissolve, and then excrete anything that is put in your mouth. Depending on what this product is, the process can take anywhere from a few hours to several days–but rest assured that it will not take years. Once food, liquids, or even gum enters the mouth and is swallowed, it travels through the esophagus and into the stomach, where enzymes begin to break the food down. From the stomach, the food enters the intestine, where the liver and pancreas excrete more enzymes and chemicals to aid in the further breakdown of the food into the carbohydrate, protein, and fat compounds that fuel the body. Finally, the remains of the food that aren’t used are sent to the colon, where they are excreted.
Contents of Gum
Typically, gum is composed of four elements–and the body can easily break down three of these. The flavorings found within gum, as well as the sweeteners and softeners can be easily digested. However, the base of the gum, which is typically made of synthetic chemicals and is what gives gum its chewy property, can stick around a bit longer. While it may take longer to digest than a typical food chemical, even the base of gum will be excreted within a few days.
Obviously, the myth that when swallowed, chewing gum can stay in your stomach for seven years in a myth. Though it may take a bit longer than average foods to digest, it will, in fact, at some time be digested and excreted. However, just because gum can be digested doesn’t mean that you should go around swallowing gum to test out the theory. It’s always best to spit it out.