Here’s the truth. (Getty Images/Dave Bradley Photography)
“Don’t swallow your gum! It’ll stay in your stomach for seven years!”
We’ve all heard some variation of this saying over the years from well-meaning parents and grandparents. They were only trying to keep our favorite gum where it belongs – in our mouths – but were they actually onto something?
According to the BBC, an inquest into the 2011 death of 19-year-old Samantha Jenkins, from Llanelli, Wales, showed that her love of chewing gum might have contributed to her death. She had low levels of potassium, magnesium, and sodium in her body when she died, leading experts to wonder if the 14 pieces of gum she regularly chewed a day kept her body from absorbing the vital nutrients.
But this is not likely, according to Ronald Kirschner, MD, toxicologist and the medical director of the Nebraska Regional Poison Center.
“Millions and millions of people safely chew gum every day without a problem,” Kirschner tells Yahoo Health. “Most likely, this is an incidental finding and they are just associating her death with gum."
Autopsies, Kirschner says, don’t always reveal everything and she may have had an underlying problem that wasn’t visible that contributed to her death. The truth is that anything can be poisonous if you eat or drink enough of it. Take water, for example. "Water is essential for life and we must have it to survive,” he says. “But if people drink too much in a short period of time – like on a bet – then it throws off sodium levels in the body and can cause death.”
There is a possibility that swallowing enough gum could block the intestines, but that would have to be in large quantities, Kirschner explains.
“Occasionally swallowing gum isn’t a big deal,” he says, adding that it will pass through your digestive tract like other food as long as you don’t have intestinal problems.
Chewing gum can also aid dental health — certain types of gum are recommended by the American Dental Association and given an official seal of approval if the manufacturers can show (with scientific evidence) that the gum can reduce plaque acids, remineralize tooth enamel, and even reduce cavities.
And it can boost thinking abilities, too: A 2011 study by researchers St. Lawrence University also found that people who chewed gum for five minutes before participating in a series of cognitive tests showed an improvement in memory and information retention.