Does it take 7 years to digest chewing gum?
Chewing gum comes in lots of colours, flavours, and textures to enjoy! You may have heard that you should never swallow chewing gum because it takes seven years to digest and come out, but is there any truth to this?
What is inside my chewing gum?
- 50% sweeteners
- 25-30% gum base
- Up to 15% softeners
- Polyol coating
The main ingredient in chewing gum is usually the sweeteners. Many ingredients can be used to add sweetness such as sugar, glucose syrup, xylitol, sorbitol, or aspartame. The gum base is an important part of chewing gum, as it gives it that chewy texture. Companies who make chewing gum like to keep their gum recipes top secret, so the exact ingredients remain a mystery! Gum bases can be made from natural or synthetic polymers, and most modern gum bases are made using synthetic ingredients such as butyl rubber, paraffin, or petroleum wax.
Softeners such as glycerine keeps the chewing gum moist and flavours such as peppermint and spearmint are the most popular chewing gum flavours, but others such as bubble gum, watermelon and even chocolate exist. Many chewing gums also have a hard polyol coating on the outside to make it extra crunchy to chew.
The journey of swallowed chewing gum
The journey of chewing gum begins as you chew and swallow the gum, and it then passes through your oesophagus into your stomach where stomach acids begin to break it down. From the stomach it passes into the small intestine where the gum is broken down further and your body absorbs any nutrients it can. The remaining chewing gum moves into your large intestine, where water is removed, and then the gum passes through your rectum when you go for a poo.
Your digestive system is designed to digest what it can, and anything it cannot digest will be excreted out of your digestive system with your stool. Foods such as sweetcorn are not able to be fully digested by your body, but still are able to come out in your stool, and chewing gum will be passed in a similar way. Flavourings and sweeteners break down easily in the digestive system, as do softeners. The gum base however can be particularly resistant to stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Butyl rubber, a key component of the gum base, is used for other purposes such as the inner tubes of bicycle tyres, the inside of footballs and rubber gloves. You can imagine how difficult it is for the human body to digest this material. So, the indigestible gum base is pushed through the digestive system mostly unchanged by the contraction of the digestive system muscles.
If chewing gum is mostly indigestible, is there any benefit to its consumption other than its pleasant taste? Well, scientists have found that sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol can reduce tooth cavities and plaque, as well as reduce ear infections in children! Finland was the first country to launch xylitol chewing gum back in 1975. So not only can chewing gum can be enjoyed for its different flavours and textures, but also for the health benefits it brings; but there is no need to swallow it to get these benefits!