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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Chewing Gum Takes Seven Years to Digest

It's a moment nearly everyone has experienced. You're contentedly chewing a wad of gum when an unforeseen turn brings about a quick disposal—the hard way. Whether the cause is imminent detection by a high school teacher, a dearth of garbage cans or even an untimely hiccup, you gulp down the rubbery gob whole. It's only then that a refrain from childhood echoes through your mind: "Don't swallow chewing gum—it will stay in your system for seven years!" As the minty mass descends into your digestive abyss, you wonder: "Will I really be part Wrigley for years to come?"

Rest assured—this decades-old bit of folklore, of unknown origin but almost universal renown, has little basis in fact. Asked if the rumor is medically unfounded, pediatric gastroenterologist David Milov of the Nemours Children's Clinic in Orlando, Fla., replies: "I can tell you that with complete certainty."
If the legend were true, Milov says, "that would mean that every single person who ever swallowed gum within the last seven years would have evidence of the gum in the digestive tract," but colonoscopies and capsule endoscopy procedures turn up no such evidence. "On occasion we'll see a piece of swallowed gum," he says, "but usually it's not something that's any more than a week old."

According to Rodger Liddle, a gastroenterologist at the Duke University School of Medicine, "nothing would reside that long, unless it was so large it couldn't get out of the stomach or it was trapped in the intestine." To put that size into perspective, Liddle says that swallowed quarters usually pass, but that larger coins or objects might not.

So what does become of gum that's been chewed up but not spit out? Not much, as it happens. Some of the components, such as sweeteners, are broken down, but the gum's base is largely indigestible. The Food and Drug Administration defines chewing gum base as a "nonnutritive masticatory substance" that may be composed of any number of natural or synthetic elastomers, or rubberlike materials, as well as plasticizing softeners, resins and preservative antioxidizing agents. The permitted elastomers include natural, tree-derived chicle, a gum chewed by indigenous Central Americans, and the somewhat less traditional butyl rubber, which also finds use in the manufacture of inner tubes.

Chewing gum, of course, has been around in one form or another for thousands of years: tooth-marked lumps of birch bark tar have been found in Europe that date back to the Mesolithic period of the Stone Age. And this past summer, researchers reported that quids—balls of plant material chewed by ancient Native Americans—had yielded DNA from members of a tribe called the Western Basketmakers, who lived in the southwestern U.S. some 2,000 years ago.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the human body cannot do much with these rubbery concoctions, resilient as they are. Chewing gum "is pretty immune to the digestive process," Milov says. "It probably passes through slower than most foodstuffs, but eventually the normal housekeeping waves in the digestive tract will sort of push it through, and it will come out pretty unmolested."

Nevertheless, the usually safe passage of gum through the system doesn't mean it is wise to habitually swallow it. As Milov and his colleagues wrote in Pediatrics in 1998, chronic gum swallowing—or swallowing gum in conjunction with other indigestibles—can spell trouble. The team's report describes three children suffering from gum-based gastrointestinal blockages, two of whom received gum as positive reinforcement for good behavior and regularly disposed of the treat by swallowing it. In both cases the children became constipated, as the gum snowballed into a substantial "taffylike" mass that required extraction. In the third patient, a girl just a year and a half old, four coins were found lodged in the esophagus, fused into a single blob by a wad of chewing gum.I've had another case that was really interesting," Milov adds, "and that was somebody who swallowed sunflower seeds—[and] also, the shells." Upon examining the patient's lower digestive tract, Milov found "all these very prickly seeds that were congealed around gum," forming a body that he describes as "like a porcupine."

Whereas the real (if remote) prospect of an internal quilling ought to be enough to discourage anyone from regularly swallowing gum, the mythical seven-year deterrent persists. Because it causes no real harm, and in fact probably serves to prevent many cases like those Milov describes, the urban legend seems likely to stick around for the foreseeable future. Unlike, thankfully, that wad of spearmint gum you swallowed in high school.

Posted by Ajay :: 5:37 PM :: 0 comments

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The Great Saga Of Husband And Wife

Marrying The Hatchet
My husband of two months has always treated me very well, and is usually thoughtful. But, one week before our wedding, he broke a promise. I hate the whole stripper thing, so he agreed to a coed party at a dueling piano bar. There was a strip club next door, but he promised he wouldn’t go in. All was well until I learned that he and his brother (who’s nothing but trouble) were at the strip club. I went over and went crazy and tossed an ashtray at his head. I was kicked out, they followed, and his brother yelled at me. I wanted to call off the wedding, but we still got married. Since then, I keep bringing this up and he keeps begging for forgiveness, saying he’d never been so drunk, and he didn’t know what he was doing. I just can’t understand how he could hurt me this way.

--Still So Angry Inside
If your husband tossed an ashtray at your head, do you think he’d be describing himself as “Still So Angry Inside” or “Still In Court Trying To Get The Charges Reduced”?

It doesn’t take much for domestic violence against men to be taken seriously…usually, just a chalk outline where a man’s body used to be. The rest of the time, people tend to shrug it off or even find it cute: “Well, well, well, she’s quite the firecracker!” Granted, male abusers can do much more damage with their fists, but put a heavy object in a woman’s hands, and good morning brain damage! (Just wondering…has your husband gotten the ashtray out of his skull, or does he have to hang around smoking areas with his head bent down so people have someplace to flick their ash?)

But, he broke his promise! Bummer. Human nature happens. If your husband’s a cad, why marry him at all (couldn’t get the catering deposit back)? If he’s a good guy who got drunk and slipped (maybe after his bro gave him a little push), why make him sorry he married you? Sure, if he keeps slipping, say, by tucking your monthly mortgage payment into some stripper’s g-string, that’s one thing. But, come on…two-plus months later, are you really reacting to what happened -- or just acting out as a means of controlling him? Consider what you’re doing to him and to your marriage by showing him that nothing he says or does makes the slightest bit of difference. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Your proctologist called. They found your head.”

You can stay married to your grudge or your husband, pick one. Frankly, you each have a lot of work to do in therapyland, individually and together. You have to deal with your uncontrollable anger and the underlying issues -- probably insecurity and fear of being ditched -- and get in the habit of expressing your fears instead of weaponizing them. Your husband needs to start standing up for himself -- for starters, by doing a Senator Craig and withdrawing his guilty plea. The correct response? The one your girlfriends would be pushing on you if the tables were turned: “There’s no excuse for domestic abuse!” (Physical or emotional.) Finally, the two of you should attend one of Dr. John Gottman’s research-based marriage weekends ( and learn to have a partnership instead of a monarchy. Marital harmony can be yours, just not by getting your husband to “agree” to like what you like: stag parties featuring your fat, fully clothed co-workers burying their heads in plates of cake instead of some hot young thing leaping naked out of one.

Posted by Ajay :: 10:05 AM :: 0 comments

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