Excessive Gum Chewing Might Have Caused Death Of 19-Year-Old Samantha Jenkins

| by Corinne Gaston

A teenage girl from Wales might have died from chewing too much gum, according to an inquest on May 5.

Samantha Jenkins, 19, collapsed in a violent fit inside her home after complaining of a headache in June 2011.

“She had complained of feeling unwell that day and told me she felt a headache coming on and had pins and needles,” Jenkins’ mother, Maria Morgan, 45, said to the Swansea Coroner’s Court. “She went upstairs that night and suddenly shouted down to me: ‘Is this what it feels like to die? I feel paralyzed’.”

Jenkins later died in a hospital of cerebral hypoxia (brain swelling) caused by convulsions due to low levels of calcium, magnesium and salt in her body. Jenkins’ death was initially attributed to natural causes.

However, after Jenkins’ death, Morgan looked through her daughter’s belongings, where she found hundreds of sugar-free Trident chewing gum wrappers. Morgan believed her daughter’s death was a direct result of the teenager’s excessive consumption of chewing gum. Jenkins was known to chew up to 14 pieces of mint gum a day. 

Morgan campaigned for nearly four years for an inquest, a judicial inquiry to determine facts relating to an incident such as a death, which raised evidence that chewing gum could have at least partially caused Jenkins’ death.

Morriston Hospital pathologist Dr. Paul Griffiths, the doctor who carried out the postmortem examination, suggested that the laxative effects of Jenkins’ exorbitant gum consumption could have contributed to the cerebral hypoxia that killed her. During the examination, he found “large lumps” of green mint chewing gum in Jenkins’ stomach, which is something he said he had never seen before.

The gum Jenkins consumed contained aspartame, a common artificial sweetener that has been deemed safe by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as well as health authorities in the United States. Had Jenkins been consuming 14 pieces of Trident gum a day, that could have amounted to about 17 grams of sweetener a day, which might have affected the levels of necessary minerals in her body, according to Griffiths.

Claiming the gum caused Jenkins' death, however, could be far-fetched, he said.

“There is very little evidence," Griffiths said. "No one has died as a result of chewing gum. I think there is a potential for this much gum to cause this problem, but it’s not hard fact.”

Still, Griffiths said that he would write to drug-monitoring officials to look for possible harmful reactions to significant amounts of sweeteners such as aspartame.

Morgan is still not completely sure what caused her daughter’s death, but a higher scrutiny of sweeteners may yield results in the future.

“I want answers for my beautiful little girl so that we as a family can finally have closure and that maybe there could be changes in awareness of these additives and warnings on packets,” Morgan said.

Sources: Daily Mail, Mirror / Image source: BBC