This Common Food Habit Can Actually Cause Diarrhea

This Common Food Habit Can Actually Cause Diarrhea

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer went viral this week, and it surprisingly wasn’t for any damage control-related business regarding the new POTUS.

An odd tidbit from a 2016 interview popped up on social media, and took a life of its own. Last August, Spicer revealed to the Washington Post that he chews – and swallows – swallows 35 sticks of Orbit cinnamon gum a day(!)—before noon.

gum-sorbitol-cause-diarrhea-bloatingGum is now the hot topic of speculation, with Spicer’s proclivity for gum begging the question: is it safe to chew and ingest that much gum?

The short answer is…no. The issue isn’t so much the swallowing of the gum, but as Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, Health‘s medical editor and gastroenterologist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center pointed out, the problem is chewing and consuming high amounts of sorbitol. Sorbitol is an artificial sweetener found in many sugar-free gums.

“Sorbitol can work as a laxative, and cause bloating and diarrhea,” says Dr. Raj, as she prefers to be called.

A 2008 report published in the journal BMJ backs Dr. Raj: two case studies in the report found high amounts of sorbitol could cause chronic diarrhea, malnutrition, and severe weight loss.

Related: 9 Ways Your Food Might be Giving You Diarrhea

A small study published in the journal Gastroenterology in 1983 saw people battling gas and bloating after ingesting 10 grams of sorbitol; cramps and diarrhea soon followed when the dosage was doubled. (For perspective, one stick of Orbit gum contains 2 grams of sorbitol).

Fortunately, sorbitol doesn’t cause long-term damage to the digestive system. Digestive problems related to the sweetener usually disappear once they stop taking in the ingredient.


But that doesn’t mean Press Secretary Spicer has to be within arm’s reach of a toilet or bedpan.

“Some people are more sensitive to it than others,” Dr. Raj says. “It’s not harmful if you’re not experiencing any issues.”

If you’re struggling with random gas, bloating, cramps, or diarrhea, Dr. Raj recommends cutting out sorbitol to see if that works – it isn’t only found in gum remember. The sweetener also resides in diet drinks, dried fruit, and sugarless candy. If you’re chronically bloated, however, you should simply avoid gum altogether, regardless of how awful your breath is.

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“There can be a sort of double-whammy effect if you’re chewing gum and it has sorbitol in it, so people who already have these issues should not be chewing gum.”

Our one last bit of gum knowledge is relevant, though a small risk: swallowing a large amount of gum every day could result in it all sticking together, forming a bezoar. A bezoar is a mass that gets stuck in and obstructs the gastrointestinal system.

But if you swallow gum sporadically, you should be just fine, says Dr. Raj: “It should pass around the same time as other foods, in one to three days.”

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