Here's what really happens to your body when you swallow gum

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Does gum really stay in your stomach for 7 years?

You might have heard the rumors as a kid: Swallow gum and it'll sit stubbornly in your stomach for seven long years.

But what does science have to say about that? Reactions, a video series from the American Chemical Society, traced the steps taken by our body's digestive system to find out that while some of the gum we chew can survive digestion, it "doesn't mean the gum you swallowed in grade school is still there."

Phew.

Turns out there are three basic components of digestion: The first includes the mechanical processes that are required to process your food when you first ingest it, i.e. chewing. The second focuses on the enzymes or proteins in your saliva and stomach that help break down that food. Last but not least are acids, which dissolve what's left into something your body can comfortably pass through your intestines.

Traditionally when you eat, your teeth and tongue work together to munch the food into small bits. Then your muscle movements push the food through the digestive tract until it is emptied into the stomach and churned with digestive juices, as shown below:

While this is happening, the enzymes in your saliva, stomach juices, and intestines drive chemical processes that allow you to convert that food into nutrients your body can use.

Then, the acids in your stomach get to work, dissolving what's left of that food into a mush that your body can comfortably pass through your intestines and, eventually...dispose of.

Pictures of Seattle's famous gum wall being removed:

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Here's what really happens to your body when you swallow gum
Old gum drips off a ledge behind as a worker uses a powerful steam cleaner to clean decades of gum off a "gum wall" that stretches behind and above him, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Seattle. Tourists and locals have been sticking their used chewing gum to the wall near Pike Place Market for 20 years, leaving an estimated 1 million pieces in a kaleidoscope of colors, some stretched and pinched into messages, hearts and other designs. On Tuesday, cleaners began melting it all off. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
A worker sweeps up piles of old gum being cleaned off the walls around him by powerful steam cleaners at a "gum wall," several walls actually, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Seattle. Tourists and locals have been sticking their used chewing gum to the wall near Pike Place Market for 20 years, leaving an estimated 1 million pieces in a kaleidoscope of colors, some stretched and pinched into messages, hearts and other designs. On Tuesday, cleaners began melting it all off. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Workers use powerful steam cleaners to clean decades of gum off a "gum wall" that stretches behind and above him, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Seattle. Tourists and locals have been sticking their used chewing gum to the wall near Pike Place Market for 20 years, leaving an estimated 1 million pieces in a kaleidoscope of colors, some stretched and pinched into messages, hearts and other designs. On Tuesday, cleaners began melting it all off. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
A worker uses a powerful steam cleaner to work decades of gum off a "gum wall" that stretches behind and above him, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Seattle. Tourists and locals have been sticking their used chewing gum to the wall near Pike Place Market for 20 years, leaving an estimated 1 million pieces in a kaleidoscope of colors, some stretched and pinched into messages, hearts and other designs. On Tuesday, cleaners began melting it all off. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Visitors check out Seattle's "gum wall" at Pike Place Market, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. On Tuesday, a steam-cleaning process to remove all of the gum from the walls is scheduled to begin, the first full cleaning the quirky tourist attraction has received in 20 years. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Jessica Wang, left, visiting from Los Angeles, has her photo taken by Michael Teylan, right, at Seattle's "gum wall" at Pike Place Market, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. On Tuesday, a steam-cleaning process to remove all of the gum from the walls is scheduled to begin, the first full cleaning the quirky tourist attraction has received in 20 years. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A penny is stuck to layers of gum on a wall at Seattle's "gum wall" at Pike Place Market, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Besides gum, people leave pictures, business cards and other mementos. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
The likeness of an American flag made from pieces of gum sticks to a wall at Seattle's "gum wall" at Pike Place Market, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. On Tuesday, a steam-cleaning process to remove all of the gum from the walls is scheduled to begin, the first full cleaning the quirky tourist attraction has received in 20 years. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Jessica Wang, left, and Michael Teylan, both of Los Angeles, use a selfie stick at Seattle's "gum wall" at Pike Place Market, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. On Tuesday, a steam-cleaning process to remove all of the gum from the walls is scheduled to begin, the first full cleaning the tourist attraction has received in 20 years. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Visitors check out Seattle's "gum wall" at Pike Place Market, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Known as the "gum wall," the sticky landmark has become a popular attraction to visitors and locals. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A note that reads "Goodbye gum wall, we will miss you," sticks to a wall partially obscured by gum, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, at Seattle's "gum wall" at Pike Place Market. Besides gum, people leave pictures, business cards and other mementos. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 5: Tourists enjoy sticking wads of gum to surrounding walls and taking selfies at Seattle's famed 'Gum Wall' on November 5, 2015, in Seattle, Washington. Located in an alley below Pike Place Market, the gum wall will be steam cleaned next week after accumulating 20 years of chewing gum. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 5: Tourists enjoy sticking wads of gum to surrounding walls and taking selfies at Seattle's famed 'Gum Wall' on November 5, 2015, in Seattle, Washington. Located in an alley below Pike Place Market, the gum wall will be steam cleaned next week after accumulating 20 years of chewing gum. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 5: Tourists enjoy sticking wads of gum to surrounding walls and taking selfies at Seattle's famed 'Gum Wall' on November 5, 2015, in Seattle, Washington. Located in an alley below Pike Place Market, the gum wall will be steam cleaned next week after accumulating 20 years of chewing gum. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 5: Tourists enjoy sticking wads of gum to surrounding walls and taking selfies at Seattle's famed 'Gum Wall' on November 5, 2015, in Seattle, Washington. Located in an alley below Pike Place Market, the gum wall will be steam cleaned next week after accumulating 20 years of chewing gum. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
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But gum isn't designed to be smoothly digested by your body like regular food. That's because it contains either a natural or synthetic rubber base, which is what gives it its gummy consistency. Butyl rubber, commonly used in gum (as well as tires and basketballs, mm!), is a synthetic rubber that provides it with an ideal chewiness.

You've probably noticed that gum is unaffected by the crushing of your teeth — that's kind of the point. So when you swallow the gum, it moves through your digestive tract into your stomach as one giant wad.

While your enzymes are able to break down the carbohydrates, oils, and alcohols in the gum as they would with regular food, the rubber base in the gum is basically immune to these enzymes.

Even the "harsh brew" of acids in your stomach is no match for this rubber base. (Remember that rubber is so resilient that we use it in gloves for protection.) As a result, part of your gum survives all of your digestive system's attempts to break it down.

But so do parts of a lot of other things you eat, like sunflower seeds or corn. So while that gum you swallowed is rebellious enough to stand up to your digestive processes, that doesn't stop your muscles from eventually ushering it through your body and out the other end within a couple days.

To learn more, check out Reaction's video below:

NOW WATCH: How bubble gum is made

See Also:

SEE ALSO: How bubble gum is made

DON'T MISS: How giant slabs of rubber become thin rubber bands


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