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White House press secretary swallows 35 pieces of gum a day — is it safe?

White House press secretary Sean Spicer chews and swallows two and a half packs of gum before noon and "it's no problem."
/ Source: TODAY

Sean Spicer is telling the truth — you can swallow your gum.

The new White House press secretary revealed in an August 2016 Washington Post article that he chews and swallows two-and-a-half packs of cinnamon Orbit gum before noon.

That’s 35 pieces of gum!

“I talked to my doctor about it, he said it’s no problem,” Spicer said in the article.

Sean Spicer, Orbit gum
AFP-Getty Images, Alamy stock

The story from last summer has recently gone viral, with New York magazine passing negative judgment on Spicer's preferred flavor.

Spicer's right that it's generally not dangerous to swallow gum.

"Adults are going to be able to pass gum pretty readily," Dr. John Williams, a gastroenterologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, told TODAY. "Complications from swallowing gum in adults are pretty rare."

But, it isn't recommended.

"Chewing sugar-free gum can help freshen your breath and even offers oral health benefits, but that’s while you’re chewing," Michelle Green, U.S. marketing communications manager for Wrigley, parent company of Orbit, said in a statement to TODAY.

"We recommend discarding your gum in the trash. If gum is swallowed, it doesn’t stick around in your stomach, but simply passes through your system after a few days like other roughage."

Swallowing too much Orbit, which is sugar-free, could create some icky tummy issues. Orbit, like other sugar-free gums, contains xylitol, a sugar alcohol that produces a laxative effect in some people.

But contrary to the myth told to us by our parents, siblings and school friends — gum does not stay in the stomach for seven years. It's true the stomach can’t digest all of it, but it doesn't remain there.

"The myth is complete bunk," said Williams. "If it is a small enough piece it should pass through."

Like other indigestible foods, including some of the fiber in fruits and vegetables, gum moves through the gastrointestinal tract in a few hours and lands in the toilet.

While Williams said occasionally swallowing gum remains safe, he wonders if consuming a lot of it could create problems. He found a case study about an 18-year-old who swallowed five pieces of gum a day for several years. The gum stuck together in her stomach, creating a bezoar, which caused bloating and vomiting. It was so large she couldn't pass it and doctors used an endoscopy to break it up and remove it. Though, children and teens have smaller gastrointestinal openings, which makes it tougher for them to pass gum.

"It definitely would be considered a very rare complication in adults, but it could happen if you are swallowing a lot of gum," Williams said.