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Debunked: Does swallowed chewing gum stay in your stomach for seven years?

Or longer? Is that piece that you swallowed when you were six still there?

Image: Ivan McClellan Photography via Flickr/Creative Commons

IN THIS SERIES, TheJournal.ie takes a look at an urban myth, old wives’ tale, or something that your mammy told you years ago to see if there’s any truth in it.

If you’re a regular chewer of gum, you’ve encountered this situation at some point: After chewing for hours, you’ve thought, “Right, I’ve had enough of this”. You go to spit it out, only to discover that you have nothing to politely dispose of it in.

Try to stick it to the seat or throw it on the floor, and you risk a hefty fine. The fear flashes through your mind that if you swallow it, it will be stuck in your stomach as an unwelcome companion for seven years.

As anyone, gum-chewer or not, will know, once stuck to anything, chewing gum is a pain to remove. It gets on your jeans, you have to freeze them. It gets on your shoe, you have to spray it with WD40. In your hair? Time to use some peanut butter, mayonnaise, vaseline or even booze.

So does your body actually have a problem getting… er… rid of it?

Little pieces of car tyre

Gum was originally made from the sap of trees, and there is evidence that it was chewed in prehistoric times. If swallowed, this would be dissolved by your stomach acids. Nowadays, it’s made from synthetic rubber, essentially the same thing as a car tyre.

As this is not the sort of thing one would usually ingest, the belief spread that your stomach hangs on to it for years. But has this ever been proven?

Professor Aiden McCormick, a consultant in Hepatology and Gastroenterology at St. Vincent’s Hospital, is a man who might know a thing or two about this. In his experience, it doesn’t seem to be true:

“I have been doing gastroscopies on patients for 30 years and I have never yet found chewing gum in the stomach.”

If chewing gum did hang around for a little big longer than other foods, something would more than likely have turned up at some stage. It seems that while eating rubber may not be the best thing for your body, it can deal with it.

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Medical intervention

Now, before you start swallowing your gum every single time, there is some evidence that excessive swallowing of chewing gum can lead to something a little unpleasant.

A study (before you click that link, be warned, the level of detail isn’t very pleasant) looked at cases where children did swallow excessive amounts of the confectionery, and a mass formed in their stomach which required medical intervention to remove.

These were extreme cases, for example one where the child swallowed gum frequently in order to be given more, so fear not. An occasional swallowed piece won’t stay with you for very long.

Is there a myth you’d like debunked? Email nicky@thejournal.ie

Debunked: Do ostriches bury their heads in the sand when scared? >

Be careful: Not binning that chewing gum? Fine… (of €150) >

About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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