"Don't swallow your gum!" was an exclamation you probably heard during your childhood. It was served alongside other old wives' tales and urban myths — most of which were probably designed to ensure good behavior. Even as an adult, you probably remember the reason you weren't supposed to swallow your gum. As the story goes, it takes years to digest.
Most, if not all of us, have at one point in our lives swallowed gum, maybe accidentally, maybe on a dare. However, swallowed gum doesn't sit in our stomachs for seven years — no matter what your great-aunt might have told you. In most situations, gum does what all undigested food does and travels through your digestive system, where it is then passed out on the other side. Sometimes, though, things don't go as they should and, on rare occasions, swallowed gum has been known to cause digestive problems too, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Gum is actually made with inedible ingredients
Before World War II, gum was made with the sap of the sapodilla tree — also known as chicle — with flavoring added to spice it up, Healthline explained. Today, gum is made of gum base, which is basically just a fancy way of saying a combo of polymers, resins, and plasticizers. Candy manufacturers don't reveal the exact ingredients in these gum bases because, as Healthline noted, they're apparently "trade secrets." And even if flavorings make gum taste good, the addition of softeners, colors, preservatives, and sweeteners doesn't sound like something you should be putting in your mouth — let alone swallowing.
Given all these indigestible ingredients packaged in minty freshness or a sweet juicy burst, it may not surprise you to know that large quantities of swallowed gum could result can create a blockage in your intestinal tract, which can only be treated by surgery. If you do chew gum, it's best not to swallow it — not because your great aunt says it will take seven years to digest, but because science says you may unable to pass it at all.