Did you ever get nightmares at the age of 8, having accidentally swallowed your chewing gum, worrying that it would stay in your stomach for years and years like your playground friends told you?
What would happen if you accidentally swallowed a second piece of chewing gum later in life? And a third? Or a fourth? Would your stomach eventually be taken over by pieces of undigested gum so no food could ever get in? It was all very stressful to think about.
But finally, we're here to answer your questions. Or rather, Youtube channel Reactions is. So you can stop worrying after all these years.
First, we'd better clarify: no, the chewing gum won't stay in your stomach forever. Or even for seven years. But there is some truth in the old wives' tale. Sort of.
The chemistry-focused video channel explains that chewing gum is made from a rubber base, comprising of polymers. While the enzymes in our saliva can break down most of the other ingredients in gum—such as butyl rubber, carbs, oils, and alcohols (that's why it changes consistency and becomes harder after having been chewed for a while)—the enzymes are unable to break down the rubber polymers.
Which is the reason we can chew it and chew it, and it won't disappear into mush like most of our other food.
So if you accidentally swallow gum, it stays in a solid lump all the way down your gullet and into your stomach. Nice. And that's why people believe it just sits there for ever and ever.
But that's not strictly true. Because think of sweet corn? It's gross to consider, but you'll probably have noticed that our insides don't do a very good job of breaking that down, either, because it still resembles corn when it emerges from the other end.
And the point is, if sweet corn can still pass through our bowels without being broken down, so can chewing gum. So that's the story: it'll emerge in its original form a few days later from your back end.
Right, now we've cleared all that up, can we stop thinking about stomachs and poo and stuff? It's nearly time to eat.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.