Gumming up the Works

Q: This came up in conversation earlier, but was never resolved to my I leave it to you, DougO, to confirm or bust this myth: does swallowed chewing gum really stay in your stomach for years?

A: The crux of the matter is that chewing gum doesn't digest - it's made of a natural or synthetic latex, originally from tree sap, but later replaced by cheaper polymers. So swallowing it does it no harm except maybe to ruin the flavor. I leave that flavor to your imagination.

But, no, it has no special properties that would make it cling to your insides. It hangs out about as long as pennies, buttons or crayons do in your system - about two days. Then it makes it's way out with an even newer, less appealing flavor.

Incidentally, the story I was told as a small child about gum was weirder. I was told never to go to bed with gum in my mouth or it would end up in my hair. Actually, that's pretty straightforward. But what I thought they meant was that it would absorb magically into my body and I would start oozing chewing gum out of my hair follicles, like through one of those Play-Doh squeezers. I was terrified. It was only much later in life that I realized what they were talking about. Needless to say, I've been pretty shy of gum ever since.