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If you've ever chewed a piece of gum, there's a good chance someone's cautioned you not to swallow it. And even if the reason they told you not to do so ended up being based in myth, not fact, there are a few reasons you might not want to have this oft-ingested item in your digestive tract.
Although swallowing a piece of gum likely won't harm you, there are some health risks that come with doing so - and some groups of people are more at risk than others.
Here's what can happen if you swallow gum.
Children are more likely than adults to experience health complications as a result of swallowing gum
According to the Mayo Clinic, swallowing too much gum can cause a blockage in a child's intestines, especially if they are already experiencing constipation.
Per The New York Times, a 1998 study published in the Pediatrics journal reported a few cases in which children developed "intestinal obstructions" after swallowing multiple pieces of gum or gum that later bound itself to other non-food objects to form larger masses. These obstructions can cause severe pain, vomiting, and constipation.
And although it is rare for multiple pieces of chewing gum to cause an intestinal blockage, gum can also be a choking hazard for children, according to the Illinois Poison Center.
Gum won't be properly digested by your body - but that doesn't mean it's going to sit in your stomach for 7 years
The most popular chewing-gum legend states that gum will stay in your stomach for seven years after you swallow it. But even though you can't exactly digest gum, it won't be hanging out in your body for nearly that long.
Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, who specializes in gastroenterology at NYU's Langone Medical Center, told INSIDER that any swallowed gum will be passed through your body shortly after you consume it, much like any other meal.
Dr. Ganjhu said gum is just "mixed with the rest of [your] other digested food matter" until it comes out in your stool.
If you searched your stool, you'd likely find the gum mostly intact because its base can't be broken down by the digestion process, gastroenterologist Nancy McGreal, MD, told Duke University Health in 2013. Things like popcorn kernels, seeds, or the fiber bases of raw veggies also cannot be easily broken down by your body.
Rest assured that "nothing happens to the stomach or intestine," when you swallow gum, said Dr. Ganjhu. Instead, the digestive system just tries to break down the gum to the best of its ability, extracting any nutrients it can, until you eventually excrete it.