Here's What Happens In Your Body When You Swallow Gum
We have all heard of terrible things that take place inside our stomach when we swallow gum. But is it really that big of a deal if you forget to spit it out?
You may have heard from your 2nd grade teacher that if you swallow your gum, it could stay in your stomach forever. Or worse, it could grow into a rubber tree. Well, that's true. Don't do it.
Just kidding. Swallowing chewing gum isn't really going to plant trees in your stomach, but that's no reason to start doing it regularly. Here's what happens to your body when you swallow gum.
When you eat standard food, three processes go to work in your body to turn food into fuel. The first is obvious: Chewing.
The process breaks food into smaller and smaller pieces, increasing the surface area.
Meanwhile, saliva coats those pieces, delivering enzymes that help break down the food.
Finally, once swallowed, the stomach acids turn any remaining food pieces into mush. This lets the food pass through the rest of the digestive tract smoothly.
But gum doesn't play by those rules. As much as you chew it, gum doesn't break up into smaller pieces.
Because it's gum. Duh.
Gum has been around for much longer than you'd think. Ancient Mayans and Aztecs harvested resin from the Sapodilla tree. They would dry it into a 'cha', and chewed it to stave off hunger. Even back then, it was also recognized as a breath freshener.
However, most gum today is made from natural or synthetic polymers, most commonly butyl rubber.
It’s used in all kinds of products, including adhesives, fiber optics, sealants, cling film, paper, fuel, explosives, sporting equipment, roofing, bottle stoppers, and tires.
But don't worry, the butyl in gum won't make you sick.
Because it can't be broken down, the wad of chewed gum hits your stomach intact.
Your saliva enzymes and your stomach acid can't touch the butyl in the gum base. But that doesn't mean it just hangs out.
Your body is equipped to handle gum in the same way it deals with other food it can't fully digest, like corn and sunflower seeds.
The muscles of your digestive tract move it along and eventually flush it out of your system in a day or two, along with everything else.
So, no, your gum doesn't stay in your body when you swallow it. But that's no reason to start gulping it down by the pack. The more gum that your body has to process, the higher the likelihood that it'll build up.
This gum mass could potentially clog your digestive tract, causing an intestinal blockage which can trigger stomach pain or constipation.
There's a lovely name for this blockage: a bezoar. An 18-year old Israeli woman once suffered from a bezoar that blocked her stomach. The problem?
Turns out, she had been swallowing at least five pieces of gum every day.
The blockage had grown so large that doctors had to break it into smaller pieces and then fish it out of her, piece by piece.
But chewing gum alone isn't necessarily bad for you.
A couple small studies have shown that the act of chewing gum can actually help relax you. Because it can help reduce levels of cortisol — a common stress hormone — in your saliva.
So, feel free to unwrap a stick.You won't be alone. 56% of American chew gum, each about 280 sticks per year. It's a 2 billion dollar industry in the U.S.
But be wary of swallowing it once done. The occasional piece of gum won’t hurt, but with everything your body already does for you, why put it through the extra work? Just don't spit it out on the ground. That's just gross.
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