Q: Is it true that swallowed gum stays in your stomach for 7 years?
A: This myth is definitely false. The body is very good at digesting material that it can use and passing the rest out in the stool. It is true that your body is unable to digest the synthetic portion of chewing gum, but it doesn’t stay in the stomach for an extended period of time because the stomach periodically empties into the small intestine. The gum then moves through the small intestine into the colon and is eventually passed in the stool.
There are many substances that the body cannot digest that pass harmlessly through our system – for instance, this is why you will often see the outside fiber shell of corn in your bowel movements. Tougher things than gum will often pass through harmlessly in a couple of days, as any parent of a toddler who swallowed a penny can tell you.
Of course, if you swallow something that is too large to fit through the various valves and tubes in your guts, it can cause an intestinal obstruction. So if you swallow a large amount of gum in a relatively small amount of time it can theoretically clump up into a large mass of indigestible substance (called a bezoar) that can get trapped in your GI system. This medical emergency is very rare, but believe me – it if does happen, it’ll take a lot less than 7 years for you to figure out something ain’t right.
So the next time you’re at a fancy restaurant with a cloth napkin and nowhere to put your gum, you can swallow it with confidence. Despite what the “old wives’ tale” says, it’ll be out of your system in a day or two.
Adam Brandeberry (Ohio State College of Medicine)
John A. Vaughn, MD (Ohio State Student Health Services)