You probably have heard many myths and superstitions over the years: Don’t break a mirror or you’ll have seven years of bad luck. Don’t start shaving body hair young or it’ll grow back darker and thicker. Eating a watermelon seed will cause a watermelon to grow inside you. And, of course, don’t swallow your gum or else it will take seven years to digest!
It is a great way for parents to ensure their kids didn’t swallow gum, which can be a choking hazard. But it may also cause some individuals to fear accidentally swallowing the sticky substance long after they’ve grown up.
We’re here to break the good news! While the body technically doesn’t digest gum, it will pass it. It actually does so in just a few short days, research proves.
Gum’s Chewy Origins
It’s unknown where the 7-year timeframe comes from, but the theory more than likely stemmed from the fact that many companies used to label their gum as “indigestible.”
The main ingredients in gum are sweeteners, flavoring, preservatives, and softeners, which the stomach has no problem breaking down. These ingredients are found in everyday items you consume on the regular.
However, it is the gum base itself that is indigestible. It was made originally from chicle, a sap from a sapodilla tree, which is what the ancient Mayans chewed. Modern gum has since been made with synthetic polymers or elastomers, and similar rubber-like ingredients, to help speed up the manufacturing process and keep up with demand. You might be thinking, “Then, is it okay to even be chewing gum in the first place?”
Chew Your Gum in Piece
The answer is yes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) puts limitations on certain ingredients. So even if swallowed, the synthetic components only sit in your stomach for a week at the most. It goes through a similar process as parts of majorly fibrous foods.
One of the two main types of fiber, insoluble fiber, is considered indigestible but is fine to eat and is actually encouraged. It can be found in foods like nuts, seeds, beans, and corn. The way these types of substances are released from the body is through your stool.
Once the gum is swallowed, it’ll find its way to your small intestine, which absorbs sugars and nutrients. Following the same path as insoluble fiber, the gum base (AKA the indigestible part of the gum) is moved to the colon. It’ll be passed during a future bowel movement to ensure it escapes the body.
Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
Don’t try swallowing gum at home. Large amounts of the chewy matter can lead to blockages in the intestine. It may also lead to choking if swallowed wrong. It’s recommended that children don’t try chewing gum until they can fully understand the importance of not swallowing it. Though, don’t fret if you happen to swallow a piece of your go-to flavor on accident. It’ll be out of your system within a week, give or take!
By Sam McCormack, contributor for Ripleys.com