Does Gum Really Take 7 Years To Digest?

By Amir Khan on August 27, 2012 11:07 AM EDT

Gum
It's a common urban legend and a warning from moms everywhere -- don't swallow your gum, because it will stay in your stomach for 7 years. But is it true? (Photo: Creative Commons)

It's a common urban legend and a warning from moms everywhere -- don't swallow your gum, because it will stay in your stomach for 7 years. But is it true? Thankfully, no.

"Nothing would reside that long unless it was so large it couldn't get out of the stomach or it was trapped in the intestine," Dr. Rodger Liddle, a gastroenterologist at the Duke University School of Medicine, told Scientific American.

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The popular urban legend-debunking website, Snopes.com, echoes Liddle's statement

."There's nothing to support this rumor; as sticky as chewing gum might appear to be outside the body, once it's sent down the alimentary canal it's no more remarkable in that respect than most anything else we swallow," Snopes says.

However, the mistake is understandable to some degree, Snopes says. People hear that gum is "indigestible," which it is, since it is partially made up of a natural rubber, and incorrectly think that that it cannot exit the body.

"The gum base is insoluble, just like the fiber base of raw vegetables, corn, popcorn kernels, and seeds," Nancy McGreal, a gastroenterologist, told Duke Health. "Our bodies do not possess digestive enzymes to specifically break down gum base."

But while it's true that gum resist's the body's attempts to break it down, it is excreted just like anything else we eat.

"It probably passes through slower than most foodstuffs, but eventually the normal housekeeping waves in the digestive tract will sort of push it through, and it will come out pretty unmolested," David Milov, a pediatric gastroenterologist, told Scientific American.

And even in the most extreme cases, McGreal said she's never seen gum linger in any patient's stomachs."

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

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