As the mother of two young children, I've often wondered what happens to gum when you swallow it. 'Cause, real talk, I'll be the first to admit I'm guilty of feeding my kids' that classic line that is supposed to deter letting a wad of gum go down the hatch. You know how the story goes — it will stay in your stomach for seven years if you swallow it. Well, it's a toss up between that or, "You'll grow a gum tree in your stomach, kid!" But, really, how long does gum stick around (pun intended) in your gut? Reactions, the American Chemical Society's online video series covering all things chemistry, decided to get to the bottom of that very question with an enlightening new vid.
In doing a bit of research for this article to bolster Reactions' findings, I discovered some very interesting facts. For starters, did you know there is an International Chewing Gum Association? Me neither, but there definitely is. According to this association, chewing gum is one of the oldest candies in the world — for thousands of years, people all over the globe have been chomping on chewing gum or its earlier predecessors, such as resins and latex plant secretions. Clearly, this makes for a whole lotta kids throughout history who've likely swallowed their gum at some point or another and, if the old myth is to be believed, spent the subsequent seven years with it chillin' in their gut.
Fact or fiction? You'll have to watch the entire video below to find out all of the specifics, but here are a few highlights of what happens to gum when you do swallow it.
1. You Chew It, Obviously
This is the mechanical part of the digestion process. Typically chewing breaks food up into tiny digestible pieces, but that would defeat the whole purpose of gum, right? It goes down the hatch whole.
2. Stomach Juices Jump To Action
Your stomach if full of all sorts of enzymes and digestive juices that break up food. However, our bodies don't actually have an enzyme capable of breaking up the rubber polymers in gum. Not even stomach acid, which is extremely strong, can break those down entirely.
3. Your Digestive System Does Its Thing
So what's the verdict? Well, gum isn't the only food your body can't entirely digest. The rubber polymers in gum might survive digestive juices but, like other foods, they're still no match for your digestive system in general. When you swallow gum, it gets ushered through your digestive system and, ahem, you know, out the other end in a day or two.