Old Wives’ Tale: Swallowed Gum

I have an irrational fear of swallowing gum, so much so that I’ve had a nightmare about it. This fear was brought about by the belief that the gum would sit in my stomach for about 7 years, and it would clog up the whole system. This sounds like another old wives’ tale to me now that I’m an adult. . . well, at least now that I have more years under my belt. So, does swallowed gum stay in your stomach for an absurd amount of time?

No. According to WebMD’s source, Robynne Chutkan, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University [1], the gum leaves your system in a matter of days. A lot of the gum’s substance cannot be digested, but it will still go through the intestine into the colon and mix with the rest of the waste.

That isn’t to say that swallowing gum is perfectly fine. It might even be logical to scare children, for instance, with these fictitious tales of everlasting gut gum just so they won’t swallow it. This article [2] took 3 cases in which kids swallowing gum resulted in extreme adverse effects. Too much swallowed gum can lead to the inability to pass waste, especially when constipation is already an issue.

But this article doesn’t just stop at the adverse effects of swallowing gum; it’s plainly against even chewing gum. There are many benefits to chewing gum, however, and it shouldn’t be disregarded completely. While the article mentions the disadvantages of chewing gum depending on the ingredients, it fails to mention the advantages, such as increased saliva production. If you chew sugarless gum, you might experience diarrhea, flatulence, or borborygmi (fancy word for tummy rumblies as fluid moves around in your digestive tract). If you chew gum with sugar, you might develop cavities. But what increased saliva production means is that less bacteria will build up and create plaque [3]. So in my mind, sugarless gum is more beneficial than not.

Another benefit from chewing gum is increased swallowing frequency. Now, you may be asking how is that a benefit since the whole point of the previous article was how bad swallowing gum is. But encouraging swallowing (heh heh) is important for people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease [4].

For those of us who have been fortunate enough to not be familiar with the symptoms of this disease, “Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain,” according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation [5]. This results in less and less control of movement in the patient. So increasing the frequency of swallowing is a big deal, in this case.

Not only that, but chewing gum can help those with laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), which is when acid from the stomach travels up to the throat. This study [6] shows that chewing gum actually results in an increase of pH in the esophagus and pharynx, which can be used for antireflux therapy.

Continue chewing gum, ye gum chewers, and fear ye not the odd ingested parcel. Just don’t swallow the whole pack.

Fare thee well, and thanks for reading!

REFERENCES
[1] Smith, M.W., 2008, “Swallowing Gum,” WebMD,
http://www.webmd.com/children/features/swallowing-gum
[2] Milov, D.E., Andres, J.M., Erhart, N.A., and Bailey, D.J., 1998, “Chewing Gum Bezoars of the Gastrointestinal Tract,” Pediatrics, 102(2)
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/102/2/e22.full
[3] Yankell, S.L., and Emling, R.C., 1989, “Clinical Study to Evaluate the Effects of Three Marketed Sugarless Chewing Gum Products on Plaque pH, pCa, and Swallowing Rates,” J. of Clinical Dentistry, 1(3), pp. 70-74
http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/2597331
[4] South, A.R., Somers, S.M., and Jog, M.S., 2010, “Gum Chewing Improves Swallow Frequency and Latency in Parkinson Patients,” Neurology, 74(15), pp. 1198-1202
http://www.neurology.org/content/74/15/1198.short
[5] Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, http://www.pdf.org/about_pd
[6] Smoak, B.R., and Koufman, J.A., 2001, “Effects of Gum Chewing on Pharyngeal and Esophageal pH,” Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol, 110(12), pp. 1117-1119
http://aor.sagepub.com/content/110/12/1117.short

Picture from Ryan McGuire’s www.gratisography.com

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faintolist

So you want to know about me? If so, I'm surprised and humbled. There are so many people you could bump into on the vast expanse of the internet, yet here you are reading MY words. I am one who was fooled by the system into getting a college education only to find out I would have been happier without it. And after realizing this, I returned to it like a dog to its vomit. Thus, I find myself pining after my childhood dream of being a writer while sitting on a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering and attending to a Master's degree. You know how the saying goes: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Joking aside, I like what I do, but I still want to write and eventually publish my work. I see no reason why I cannot do both.

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