The short answer to this question is, “The same amount of time it takes for your body to digest other kinds of foods.”
It’s amazing that human have been chewing gum for over up to 9,000 years. What’s even more amazing is that with modern science, technology and advances in medicine, most people are still unfamiliar with the intricacies of our digestive system and how gum is treated in our guts.
In fact, we’ve probably been exposed to a number of food myths since we were children. Your parent or peers may have told you that eating carrots is so good for your eyes that you can gain the ability to see in the dark. Or maybe you’ve heard that eating bread crusts can contribute to having curly hair. Or perhaps you’ve seen on TV that eating large quantities of sugar can give you a “sugar high” and make you hyperactive. These myths are just that: myths without scientific basis. But perhaps you’ve heard the most famous food myth about chewing gum.
We have all probably heard at one point in our childhood that gum, when swallowed, will stay in our stomachs for 7 years before becoming digested and expelled from the body. Maybe we’ve even taken up the challenge and intentionally swallowed a piece of gum and waited several years just to see what would happen. However, if you’ve done this, you would have found yourself abandoning the experiment after a few weeks or months because nothing bad happened
Well, for those of you who quit keeping track after several months or years, that’s completely fine because the legends are untrue. Gum, when swallowed, is dissolved in our gastric juices and shot out of our bodies when we go to the toilet. The truth of it all is just an unexciting as digesting non-chewing gum foods. It’s true that gum isn’t 100% digested but that’s not exactly a problem. If you’ve ever eaten whole pieces of corn kernels, then… You know where I’m going with this: the non-digested parts come out of our bodies as waste.
Our digestive system is a complicated and effective system which breaks down foods. When swallowing, the food travels down the esophagus into the stomach. Enzymes and acids in the digestive tract begin the digestion process. Partially digested foods are transferred into the intestine where the food is broken down into its components and absorbed by the body, with the help of our livers and pancreas. The digested parts of our food are converted into energy to power our bodies. Anything leftover is left undigested until they are sent to and through our colons and turned into waste.
Although our stomach doesn’t break down pieces of gum as it would other for other foods, our bodies can keep the gum flowing smoothly within our digestive system through regular intestinal activity. After our bodies absorb whatever it can from the sticky candy, we expel the gum from our bodies through having a bowel movement.
This isn’t to say that swallowing gum can’t be problematic. Similar to swallowing other rubbery substances, if you eat and swallow a large amount of gum in a short period of time, it can obstruct the digestive tract. However, these cases are extremely rare and won’t happen unless you intentionally partake in mounds and mounds of chewing gum.
Young children will need to be taught that chewing gum is for chewing and not swallowing. This may be a difficult concept to grasp but when the candy loses its sweetness and becomes bland in flavor then hopefully they’ll get the gist. However, even children who swallow small amounts of gum will most likely not suffer from a blocked digestive tract.
Chewing gum is basically treated like a foreign body and, although gum will be digested when it reaches the stomach, it can cause blockage similar to other foreign objects like coins, sunflower seed shells, and plastic. This is because of the ingredients used to make the chewing gum isn’t all that digestable.
Candy gum is made with natural or synthetic materials like gum resin, flavorings, preservatives, and sweetening agents. The body absorbs the sweeteners which can accumulate into a lot of calories if you chew gum excessively. However, the body is unable to process the gum resin and the ingredient is pushed through the digestive tract by normal intestinal movements (peristaltic). Your gum’s journey to the center of the stomach ends with a visit to the bathroom.
In general, you shouldn’t allow young children to chew on gum until they understand the complicated concept of “spit it out when it’s no longer sweet.” Until you child understands, usually at around age 5 or age 3 for super advanced young geniuses, just stick to giving them other teeth-rotting sweets. However, if your younger sibling is asking for a piece of gum, just ask mom and dad if it’s okay.
For older children who are experienced in the art of gum-chewing and bubble-blowing, remind them that too much of the sweet can have terrible consequences. Unless the gum is sugar-free (and flavor-free), excessive gum chewing can lead to cavities. Even sugar-free gum with sorbitol added to it can cause unintended effects like diarrhea. A good rule of thumb to follow is limit yourself to one to two pieces of sugar-free gum per day, and when you’re done, just spit the thing out into the nearest garbage receptacle.
So the next time you’re chewing on a piece of gum and find yourself in a sticky situation without a napkin to place your gum in, or you take a trip to Singapore and are smuggling chewed pieces of gum in your mouth illegally, remember that you can swallow your gum with confidence and with little to no negative consequences. However, refrain from doing this repeatedly in a short period of time, and especially avoid swallowing the gum mound if you’ve inserted multiples pieces of the cavity-causing candy into your mouth.