Throughout the year, we will be publishing essays from Professor Andrew Lyon‘s Honors 389 course “The Science Blender” . The first paper of the term asked students to:

Research and summarize an example of our evolving scientific knowledge. That is, how has society’s scientifically-driven “conventional wisdom” on a topic evolved as new scientific knowledge has come to light?”

Below is one student’s essay on the topic.

The current generation, as well as the past few generations, has lived under the assumption that swallowing chewing gum is not healthy because it will take seven years for the body’s digestive system to expel it. However, this idea that has been considered “common knowledge” and passed on from parent to child for numerous decades is in fact a myth.

Newly published scientific knowledge has shown that this concept, which has been so widely accepted for so long, is inaccurate. Recent research and scientific breakthroughs have proven that it does not actually take seven years to digest swallowed chewing gum. However, even with this being the case, it is not a good idea for one to swallow large amounts of chewing gum in a single sitting.

Scientifically speaking, it is impossible for chewing gum to be fully absorbed into one’s body due to its insoluble gum base; gum will never stick to the stomach wall or intestinal tract. The digestive system is able to decide if consumed contents are usable and beneficial to the body in any way; if the body deems something useless, such as chewing gum, it will expel the item in a timely and efficient manner via stool. Chewing gum is only one example of the many food items that the body rejects when put through the digestive system. Other items that demonstrate this concept are the outer fiber shell of corn, and in a more extreme case, a penny.

Nonetheless, it is still not smart to swallow giant wads of chewing within a condensed period of time. Swallowing excessive quantities of chewing gum can cause the gum to clump up and create an intestinal obstruction. The indigestible item that is created has the potential to get trapped in the gastrointestinal system. If this happens, it becomes necessary to get the blockage removed via planned surgery or by means of an emergency operation. With the exception of this rare blockage that can form if large amounts of chewing gum are consumed, swallowing one or two pieces of gum every now and then will simply result in the gum finding its way out of the digestive system within one or two days at the most.

The origin of the chewing gum myth is difficult to identify. It is believed that parents began telling their children that it would take them seven years to digest gum if they swallowed it because even though it did not have the potential to be deadly, swallowing chewing gum was not a good habit to develop due to its ability to cause blockage in the intestines if consumed in large amounts. Regardless of the myth’s source, it is important that people know now that swallowing chewing gum is not harmful to one’s health, provided that it is not ingested in excessive quantities. Moreover, chewing gum will not take seven years to digest if it does end up being consumed.