When I was going to school, gum was strictly forbidden. If a teacher saw you chewing a piece, it was the fourth grade equivalent of a capital crime. In order to avoid being caught, many a kid swallowed the gum (aka “the evidence”). I never did, because I had heard horror stories around the playground. Swallow a piece of gum, the legend went, and it was in your stomach for ten years.
True or false? There are a number of sites dedicated to answering this very question. KidsHealth.org explains that while a person’s stomach “can’t break down a piece of gum the same way it breaks down other food, your digestive system can move it along through normal intestinal activity.” In other words, it’s not gonna stick around for ten years. It’ll be gone just as soon as you, well, you know.
That said, there are extreme cases. For example, if a person were to swallow a tremendous number of pieces of gum, he or she might have some problems with their digestive tract. But that’s obviously a rare situation. As KidsHealth.org puts it, “swallowing an occasional piece of gum is harmless.”
The urban legend experts at Snopes.com confirm this, saying that once gum goes down the gullet, “it’s no more remarkable in that respect than anything else we swallow.” Snopes theorizes that the misinformation may have started due to gum being often referred to as “indigestible.” That’s misleading. While the stomach doesn’t really break down the gum, it exits the body at the same rate as anything else.
So, it turns out the sages of the playground had it wrong. Wonder if they were lying about not sticking my tongue to a frozen flagpole, too…
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