Does Gum Really Stay in Your Stomach for Years?

This tacky tale seems to stick, but is there any truth to it?

We've all been there: One minute, you're happily chewing on a gumball that you purchased right from the gumball machine, and then — gulp! — your favorite flavorful chewy treat has accidentally been ingested. Are you stuck with it for years to come?

The urban legend goes that an unwanted gummy visitor can stay in your stomach and digestive tract for up to seven years. But is that true? Or is it a wadded up piece of fiction? Let's find out.

Does Gum Really Stay in Your Stomach for Years?

No, swallowed gum doesn't stick around your digestive tract for the better part of a decade. Sure, gum will stick to your shoe (or your hair, clothing, or couch fabric), but it does not stick to your stomach wall or intestinal tract like the urban legend suggests.

Instead of hanging around for years, gum simply travels the same path as food and is eventually excreted in the stool. Like seeds, nuts, and other roughage, chewing gum is indigestible. The gum base is insoluble, just like the base of raw vegetables, corn, or popcorn kernels. But it won't upset your digestive system. It simply passes through.

The origins of the odd myth that gum will stay in your system for seven years is unknown. Were some overly stressed parents just trying to keep their kids from eating a meal's worth of paste? Perhaps.

Portrait of young woman blowing bubble gum bubble
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What Happens if You Swallow Gum?

Gum starts to digest the moment you swallow it. Once it passes down your esophagus, it lands in your small intestine. From there, your small intestines push it through while absorbing any sugar and leftover nutrients.

Next, the indigestible portion of the gum (which primarily consists of the sticky stuff) moves from the small intestine through the colon. Finally, the gum will pass through your rectum when you have a bowel movement. Usually, the gum will be completely out of your system in less than seven days.

An exception to this rule would be people who have gastroparesis (AKA paralyzed stomach), a condition that can lead to a buildup of food in the stomach.

On very rare occasions, large amounts of swallowed gum and other objects have blocked intestines in children and toddlers. These blockages are called bezoars.

In 1998, for example, a one-and-a-half-year-old girl had four coins stuck to the side of her throat with a "peculiar, sticky, wax-like substance." Gum itself may not be problematic, but other foreign objects make for a compounding problem. It is for this reason that good gum-chewing habits should be strictly enforced with young kids.

Even though swallowing gum may be harmless to your digestive tract, gum isn't always kind to your stomach. The additive sorbitol, which is used in sugarless gum, can cause diarrhea and abdominal pain. If you swallow large quantities of sugarless gum, it might lead to nausea, diarrhea, and headaches.

In addition, mouth ulcers have been associated with cinnamon gum, a common flavor, and gum chewing can also lead to mechanical tooth injuries like TMJ.

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