Know your medical facts from myths? There are a lot of old wives' tales out there. But where do they come from and what is the truth? This week, does chewing gum actually take seven years to digest?

What's the truth?

There are a few variations on this myth. The most alarming, which I remember being told in the playground, was that gum not only takes seven years to digest, but can also stick your intestines together.

Happily for all gum-chewers, there's no need to fear. Although the myth has been around since gum became popular in the late 19th century, it's completely untrue.

Does gum take 7 years to digest
Illustration by David Humphries

Where did the myth come from?

The likelihood is that it originates from a single word that gum manufacturers used in the past: indigestible.

While their product contains flavours and sugars that are digestible, the main constituent, gum base, is not: the body can't break it down. People seem to have assumed that "indigestible" meant it would stay inside the body for a long time. In fact, if swallowed, it simply passes through the digestive tract like any other edibles that can't be digested—such as fibre.

This takes about two to three days. No one knows where the "seven years" bit comes from.

 

So there's nothing to worry about?

Chewing gum wasn't designed to be swallowed, but there are certainly no medical reasons why it can't be. It's also a myth that swallowing bubble gum will result in blowing bubbles from...well, I'm sure you can imagine.
 

 

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