Old Wives’ Tales: To spit or to swallow?


Chewing has been a popular vice for some time now. But what are the effects of swallowing it, asks Alison Lee

Ever swallowed your gum in front of your parents and been told that it’ll give you stomach ulcers? Or, even more disturbingly, sit in your stomach for seven years before being digested? Even Roald Dahl seemed to have some sort of personal vendetta against innocent old Wrigley’s and co.

He condemned chewing gum in his novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and sentenced the character Violet Beauregard to life as a giant blueberry for her love of a good old chew. Another celebrity with a self-confessed phobia of chewing gum is Oprah Winfrey. She has banned it from the building where she records her chat show.

But is chewing gum really that bad for you? Never fear, because The University Observer is here to answer the age-old question: spit or swallow? According to Wrigley’s, chewing gum is comprised of five basic ingredients: sweeteners, corn syrup, softeners, flavourings and gum base (the part that makes gum chewy).

The first four ingredients are soluble, meaning they dissolve in the digestive system. Gum base is insoluble but it moves through the digestive system like anything else and comes out the other end after a day or two. In fact some studies say that chewing gum is good for you. Chewing gum after a heavy meal reduces the level of acid reflux, according to a study carried out by researchers at King’s College London.

The main hazard associated with chewing gum is choking, and even then don’t worry too much. Small children tend to be the only ones stupid enough to fall victim to this. Other fairly rare adverse effects are diarrhoea, stomach aches and flatulence. Mouth ulcers can result from cinnamon flavouring, and high blood pressure and low blood potassium from liquorice flavouring.

Other unpleasant side effects can include mechanical injury to the teeth; overuse injury (temporomandibular joint syndrome) and extrusion of dental repairs. But the place where chewing gum is most detrimental to your health is no doubt the country of Singapore. Since 1992, chewing gum is illegal, although since 2004 it has been available under medical prescription thanks to the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.

If you try to smuggle it into the country and this includes bringing in small amounts for personal use, you’ll be faced with a jail sentence and a $5,500 fine. These extreme laws were brought into effect due to the city-dwellers nasty habit of disposing used chewing gum anywhere from pavements and walls of public buildings to through letter boxes and on buttons in elevators.

So the moral of the story is: Chewing gum is a safe way to freshen your breath, and feel free to chew and swallow as much as you want. Just don’t do it in Singapore.