What actually happens when you swallow chewing gum?

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If you swallow gum, it will probably get stuck in your stomach/intestines/digestive system for seven years, right?

I even had a babysitter tell me when I was little that I would have an operation to remove said built up gum from my stomach if I kept swallowing it. So is there any truth to it?

As it turns out, it is mostly a myth. Mostly. For the average person, forget seven years, a piece of chewing gum will generally be digested in seven days.

“While chewing gum is designed to be chewed, not swallowed, if gum is swallowed it simply passes through the body just like all other roughage does within a few days with no harm caused,” Melanie McGrice, a Melbourne-based dietician, explains. (One thing that very good for your gut? Kombucha. Here Magdelena Roze tells us five benefits of the drink. Post continues after video.)

Chewing gum is insoluble, like seeds for example, so while you will break down some of the ingredients in it, like the flavouring, a lot of it will pass through your body smoothly in one piece.

However, occasionally rare implications from swallowing too much gum can occur. In one study, published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that swallowing gum can be problematic, especially for small children. (Post continues after gallery.)

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Three children in the study who had a habit of swallowing chewing gum went to a clinic with intestinal pain, constipation and other symptoms, and were found to have small masses of chewing gum in their guts, which needed operations to remove.

So, in the case of these rare examples, my babysitter actually wasn’t too far off.

But if you have eaten the occasional piece, there’s no evidence to suggest that you will come to any harm. So there you have it.

Fess up, are you a gum swallower?

Melanie McGrice is one of Australia’s best known dietitians. She is a highly respected author and health presenter on nutrition and dietary issues – and a lover of great food! Join her free nutrition and wellbeing network at www.melaniemcgrice.com.au.

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