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Swallowing Gum

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Q: My 7-year-old son likes to swallow his bubblegum. I’ve heard that it will stay in his stomach forever. True?

A: This old wives’ tale is very popular on the playground, but it’s definitely FALSE.

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"It is true that most of the components of bubblegum are not found in nature," says Robynne Chutkan, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University. "And as such we don’t have the enzymes to break them down. But eventually gum does get through the intestine and into the colon, where it is mixed with stool and then excreted."

How long is "eventually?" According to Chutkan, gum -- like kernels of corn -- may come out one day, two days, or even three days after being swallowed, but the time lapse is fairly quick: "It’s always within days, not weeks and certainly not years."

Chewing gum has greater dangers: It can cause a young child to choke; the sugar can promote tooth decay; and no one knows exactly how the chemicals in such processed foods affect the body in the long term. "In general, the less exposure you have to artificial ingredients, the better," Chutkan says. "Our bodies just weren’t made to digest them."

 

 

Reviewed on September 01, 2008

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