What Happens If You Swallow Gum?
Do you know what happens if you swallow chewing gum?
We’ve all heard the story that if you swallow you gum it will stay in your stomach for 7 years. Or you may have also been told that it will grow into a plant in your stomach. It may seem so irrational to you but you may have heard it. But is that true? Let’s find out.
When you normally eat food three processes in your body take place to convert that food into fuel that your body needs.
The first is chewing. Your teeth and tongue work together to break down the food you eat. The process breaks it down into smaller and smaller pieces to help it get digested better and easily.
Saliva then covers those pieces delivering enzymes present in the saliva that help breakdown the food.
Finally, once swallowed, the acids in the stomach break down and absorb the nutrients from the food and turn any remaining food into mush so that it passes smoothly through the rest of your digestive system. In the intestines too, the left over nutrients that were not absorbed in the stomach are taken in and the waste is flushed out of your system.
But gum doesn’t get digested in the same way. As much as you chew it, gum doesn’t break into smaller pieces.
Gum has been around for centuries. It was found in Finland. Ancient Mayans, the Aztecs and the Greeks too would chew gum to stave off hunger. It was also used as a breath freshener. This gum was made from the resin extracted from a sapodilla tree. In 1860s modern gum was invented. This modern gum is made from natural or synthetic polymers, most commonly butyl rubber. It is used in all kinds of products like adhesives, roofing, tires, cling film, paper, fuel, explosives, sporting equipment etc. But don’t worry. The gum you eat does not cause any great harm to your body.
The gum you swallow cannot be broken down. It does not break down into pieces, it reaches your stomach intact. Your saliva enzymes and stomach acids cannot affect the butyl in the gum. But it doesn’t just remain there in the same way it entered our digestive tract. Our body is equipped to handle gum the same way it handles other foodstuff that can’t be fully digested like corn and sunflowers seeds. The muscles of your digestive system move it along and flush it out of your body in a day or two along with everything else. It may remain in your body for a maximum of three days. So the gum doesn’t stay in your body when you swallow it.
But that doesn’t mean you can keep swallowing gum. Gum, even though gets processed and flushed out of your system, still takes time to go through this process. The more you keep swallowing and the more your body has to process, the more it piles up and can block your digestive tract causing intestinal blockage which can trigger stomach pain or constipation.
There is a name for this blockage which is caused by ingesting too much gum. It is called a Bezoar. An 18 year old Israeli woman suffered from a bezoar that blocked her stomach. It turns out she was swallowing 5 pieces of gum everyday. The doctors had to operate on her and manually remove the pieces of gum blocking her digestive tract.
So it is okay to swallow gum once in a while but don’t make it a habit or else it will affect you. However, on the whole, you do not need to worry about that one stick of gum that you swallowed by mistake.