What happens if you swallow Gum?

Jan 09, 2024

What happens if you swallow Gum? One Truth & One Lie


Swallowing Gum

Truth: When you swallow Gum, it doesn't get digested like most food we consume. However, this doesn't mean it stays in your body for years. It simply passes through your digestive system and leaves your body in the stool within a few days.

Lie: The old wives' tale that Gum stays in your stomach for seven years is a myth. Your body can pass it through and out of your digestive system relatively quickly, usually in a matter of days.

Sleeping on the Left Side

Truth: Sleeping on your left side can be beneficial in certain scenarios. For instance, it can reduce heartburn symptoms by preventing stomach acid from traveling back into the esophagus. It can also be helpful during pregnancy, as it may improve circulation to the heart, which is good for both mom and baby.

Lie: However, saying that sleeping on the left side is universally healthier isn't accurate. Sleep position preference can vary significantly from person to person, depending on numerous factors, including comfort and certain health conditions. Therefore, asserting that one position is definitively healthier than another for everyone is incorrect.

The Truth and Lie about Swallowing Gum

When swallowing Gum, there is a significant amount of misunderstanding and misinformation. One of the root causes of these misconceptions is the unusual nature of the ingredients found within Gum, particularly those that make up the gum base.

The components of chewing gum

Chewing Gum  is a common confectionery product that is often enjoyed for its long-lasting flavor and the unique, chewy texture it maintains. The key ingredients found in most types of chewing gum include sugars, flavorings, artificial sweeteners, and dyes.

The common ingredients: sugars, flavoring, artificial sweeteners, and dyes.

Sugars and artificial sweeteners provide the sweet taste that makes Gum appealing. These can vary widely from traditional cane sugar to high-intensity sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose. Flavorings, natural and artificial, are used to create various gum flavors, from peppermint to tropical fruit. Dyes are then used to give the Gum its colorful and attractive appearance. These ingredients are generally safe to ingest and are easily broken down by your body during digestion.

The mysterious gum base: elastomers, waxes, resins, fillers.

 The gum base, however, is what truly sets chewing Gum apart from other types of food. It comprises elastomers, waxes, resins, and fillers that give Gum its unique, chewy texture. Elastomers provide elasticity, making the Gum stretchy. Waxes and resins contribute to the Gum's ability to maintain its structure while being chewed. Fillers, on the other hand, improve the texture and appearance of the Gum. The gum base is designed to resist the body's digestive enzymes, so you can chew a piece of Gum for a long time without it breaking down. Consequently, when swallowed, the gum base can't be digested by the body, but it doesn't linger for years, as many myths suggest. Instead, it passes through the digestive system and is excreted.

The journey of Gum through our body

Understanding the path gum takes through our body when swallowed can help demystify misconceptions surrounding this practice.

The Beginning: The Oral Cavity

The journey of Gum through our body begins in the oral cavity or the mouth. Here, as we chew the Gum, our saliva begins to act upon the sweeteners and flavorings, breaking them down and extracting their tastes. However, the gum base, which gives the Gum its chewy texture, is resistant to this process. It remains largely unchanged, regardless of how long it's chewed. This is why Gum can maintain its form and texture for a prolonged period.

From Mouth to the Stomach: The Esophagus

When swallowed, the intact gum base moves from the mouth into the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. This act of swallowing is typically safe, as the Gum is small and pliable enough to navigate this pathway without causing harm or getting stuck.

The Role of Saliva and Enzymes in Gum Digestion

In the mouth, saliva and enzymes begin the process of digestion by breaking down the easily digestible ingredients in the Gum. However, as stated earlier, the gum base resists this process. When the Gum reaches the stomach, the digestive enzymes and acids attempt to break down the Gum. While these strong substances can handle most food items, the gum base remains undigested due to its unique composition designed to resist these digestive processes. Yet, this doesn't mean the Gum stays in your body indefinitely. Like any other indigestible item, the Gum will move through your intestines and eventually be excreted. Contrary to popular belief, this process usually doesn't take more than a few days.

The stomach and Gum

The next leg of the journey in exploring swallowed Gum's fate involves the stomach and its powerful digestive abilities.

The Effects of Hydrochloric Acid and Other Stomach Enzymes on Gum

Gum encounters a highly acidic environment in the stomach created by hydrochloric acid, along with a mix of potent digestive enzymes. These substances work together to break down food particles into their simplest forms for easier absorption in the intestines. However, the gum base, which forms the core structure of the chewing gum, is particularly resistant to this process. Despite the harsh stomach conditions, the gum base doesn't break down like most food components. Instead, it maintains its integrity, still unaltered in its form and structure.

The Journey of Gum from the Stomach to the Small Intestine

Once the stomach has done its part, the undigested gum base and other stomach contents proceed into the small intestine. This is the part of the digestive system where most nutrient absorption occurs. While nutrients from digested food are absorbed through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream, the gum base remains intact. Given that it's not broken down into simpler compounds, it travels through the digestive system, passing next into the large intestine. This journey continues, and eventually, the gum base exits the body through the rectum during a bowel movement. Contrary to the long-standing myth, this process typically takes only a matter of days, not seven years.

The truth about Gum and digestion

Let's now examine what happens to chew Gum within our digestive systems.

Comparing Gum to Other Indigestible Materials: Fiber

While the gum base may sound like a cause for concern, it's important to note that our bodies regularly process indigestible materials. Fiber, for example, is a plant-derived substance that passes through our bodies largely undigested, and it's crucial for our digestive health. Similarly, the gum base remains undigested but poses no harm in typical circumstances.

The Journey of Gum through the Intestines and Out of the Body

The gum base enters the large intestine after traversing the stomach and small intestine. This organ is responsible for absorbing water and electrolytes from undigested food material. The gum base, still undigested, continues its journey along with the rest of the waste products, eventually being expelled from the body during bowel movements. On average, this whole process can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours, depending on the individual's metabolism and diet.

What If You Swallowed Multiple Pieces of Gum Per Day?

While an occasional swallowed piece of Gum is mainly harmless, regularly consuming large amounts could lead to complications.

Case Studies of Pediatric Patients Swallowing Multiple Pieces of Gum

There have been isolated case reports in the medical literature of children who habitually swallowed Gum, leading to gastrointestinal blockages. These blockages were usually the result of multiple pieces of Gum combining with other indigestible materials, forming a larger mass known as a bezoar.

The Possibility of Gum Bezoar and Its Dangers

A bezoar is a hardened mass of material that can form in the digestive tract, often leading to painful blockages. In rare cases, excessive swallowing of Gum can lead to the formation of a gum bezoar. These can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and even constipation or diarrhea and may require medical intervention for removal.

Debunking the 7-Year Myth About Swallowed Gum

To set the record straight, the claim that Gum stays in your body for 7 years is a myth. Like any other food, swallowed Gum passes through your digestive system and is excreted, usually within a few days. While the gum base isn't broken down and absorbed like most other foods, it doesn't stick around for years. However, frequently swallowing large amounts of Gum could cause problems. As always, moderation is key.

The Truth and Lie about Sleeping on the Left Side

Let's explore the claims around the purported benefits of sleeping on the left side, specifically for those who experience acid reflux.

The Potential Benefits of Left-Side Sleeping for Acid Reflux Sufferers

Acid Reflux and Heartburn

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth and stomach. This can cause a burning sensation in the chest, heartburn, and other symptoms like bloating, belching, or a sour taste in the mouth. The severity and frequency of these symptoms can vary from person to person.

The Anatomical Basis for the Possible Benefits of Left-Side Sleeping

There is some scientific basis for the claim that sleeping on your left side  can help manage acid reflux symptoms. The stomach is situated towards the left side of the abdomen, and sleeping on the left can use gravity to keep stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus. The junction between the stomach and esophagus is also on the right side. Thus, when lying on the right, the stomach acid must go "uphill" to reach the esophagus, making reflux less likely.

Alternatives to Left-Side Sleeping for Managing Acid Reflux

While left-side sleeping may benefit some, it's not the only strategy for managing acid reflux. Dietary modifications, weight loss, elevating the head of the bed, avoiding food and drinks that trigger symptoms, and medications can all play a role in managing acid reflux. It's important to remember that everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

The potential benefits of left-side sleeping during pregnancy

The Anatomical Changes during Pregnancy and Their Effects on Sleeping Positions

Pregnancy brings about various changes to a woman's body that can impact sleep. The growing uterus and baby alter the mother's center of gravity, placing pressure on internal organs and creating discomfort in certain sleeping positions. As the pregnancy progresses, the mother might experience shortness of breath, back pain, digestive issues, and frequent urination, which can further impact sleep.

One of the suggested sleeping positions during pregnancy, especially in the later stages, is the left lateral position or sleeping on the left side. This position is believed to increase blood and nutrients reaching the placenta and the baby. It also helps the kidneys efficiently eliminate waste products and fluids from the mother's body, reducing swelling in the ankles, feet, and hands.

The Dangers of Back Sleeping During Pregnancy Due to Vascular Compression

Sleeping on the back during the latter stages of pregnancy may be harmful due to the uterus pressing on the vena cava, the large vein that returns deoxygenated blood from the lower body to the heart. This phenomenon, known as supine hypotensive syndrome or aortocaval compression syndrome, can reduce blood flow to the heart and brain, causing dizziness, shortness of breath, and, in rare cases, fainting.

By contrast, sleeping on the left side can help avoid compression of the vena cava, promoting better blood flow and nutrient delivery to both the mother and baby. However, it's important to note that some position shifting during sleep is natural, and pregnant women shouldn't be overly anxious about maintaining a left-side sleeping position at all times. As always, discussing any sleep-related concerns with a healthcare provider is best. 

The benefits of left-side sleeping

Left-side sleeping can provide specific benefits, such as relief from GERD symptoms and improved circulation during pregnancy. However, its benefits can vary from person to person, and discomfort from this position could negate any potential advantages. Good sleep hygiene practices often matter more for quality sleep. Consulting a healthcare provider is recommended for any concerns related to sleep position or quality.

Final Thoughts

It is human nature to seek an understanding of the world around us, including our bodies. Many health myths and legends that have persisted over time attest to this. While some of these myths may be harmless or even carry a kernel of truth, it's crucial to approach such information with a healthy dose of skepticism. Scientific understanding of the human body and its functions has advanced immensely, and this knowledge is a valuable resource for maintaining our health.

Understanding our bodies and how they function is a means of dispelling myths and a tool to manage our health better. It allows us to make informed decisions about our lifestyle, diet, sleep habits, etc. Moreover, with this understanding, we can better communicate with healthcare providers and participate more fully in our healthcare.

The next time you come across a health-related myth, take a moment to question and investigate it. Seek out reliable sources and remember that while the human body is incredibly complex, gaining a basic understanding of its functions is within our reach. It's an ongoing learning journey that can contribute significantly to our overall well-being.