What Actually Happens After You Swallow Chewing Gum?

We've all heard that if you swallow your chewing gum it will hang around in your guts for the next seven years. It's one of those urban legends that people tend to just believe because a friend said, "I heard..." or "They say..." And it's absolutely true: if you do it more than twice in a seven year period you'll become so constipated that you'll die.

Okay, not really. Actually, according to Healthline, you may not be able to digest chewing gum, but it doesn't stick to your intestines as easily as it does to the bottom of your shoe. If everything is working properly, it'll go through your digestive tract along with everything else, and you'll pass it out more or less intact in 40 hours or so.

Healthline also states that one piece of gum shouldn't be cause to worry, but if you swallow a large amount, you could block things up down there. If it gets serious, it could require surgery to remove. Chewing gum blockage symptoms may include constipation, abdominal pain, and vomiting. In extreme cases, you may end up like Sean Spicer. According to Vox, the former White House press secretary swallows multiple packs of cinnamon-flavored Orbit gum every single day. "Two and a half packs by noon," he said.

The dangerous part of chewing gum isn't swallowing it

You really don't have to worry about swallowing your gum. Gastroenterologist Nancy McGreal, MD told Duke Medicine that she has never seen gum blocking up someone's intestines. "In all the upper endoscopies I have done in both children and adults, I have yet to see a wad of gum lying around in the stomach," she said, but added that the artificial sweeteners in them could cause headaches, nausea, and/or diarrhea if large quantities of gum make it down into your belly.

However, some types of gum will cause severe gastrointestinal distress even without swallowing. According to ABC News, you should steer clear of gum sweetened with the artificial sweetener sorbitol. That report mentioned a pair of avid gum chewers who had experienced extreme weight loss due to unexplained diarrhea. The woman, a 21-year-old, had lost 24 pounds, and the man, 46, had lost around 46 pounds this way. The doctors were stumped until they inquired as to the types of gum they chewed. They were chewing up to 20 sticks a day, and heading to the toilet as many as 10 times a day, but when they stopped chewing the gum on the doctors' advice, they went back to a normal one trip per day and regained a healthy amount of weight. Luckily, Americans don't have to worry as much about this problem, as the majority of sugar-free gum in the United States is sweetened with aspartame or saccharin.

Don't let your kids swallow gum

While adults aren't likely to experience negative effects from swallowing gum, it's still not a good idea to let your kids swallow their Bubble Tape. A study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found several cases of children experiencing very uncomfortable symptoms like abdominal pain, constipation, and other adverse effects due to intestinal bezoars, the medical term for lumps of hardened gum blocking up the plumbing down there.

The resulting medical care sounded extremely uncomfortable. One four-year-old boy who swallowed around five ounces of gum a night ended up having to be sedated and subjected to a "rectal suction biopsy." One of the poor kids even had some coins lodged in the mass of gum she'd swallowed. Other un-fun ailments and treatments resulting from swallowing chewing gum were described with terms like "multicolored rectal mass," "taffy-pull," "phosphosoda enema," "manual disimpaction," and "coin retriever." So if your kids regularly swallow gum, explain to them what these things sound like, and surely you'll scare the habit out of them instantly.

Now the next time someone gives you that line about seven long years of digestion, you can tell them it's just a crazy food myth and swallow away. However, we really don't recommend it. Even though the chances are remote, having to find out what "manual disimpaction" is first-hand just don't seem worth the risk.