Chestnuts Have Almost Killed a Careless Man

Have you ever heard your grandmother saying “chew your food properly”? Probably a hundred times, right?

There are old urban legends with unknown origins about the importance of chewing every bite 32 times, even though it isn’t common knowledge where this number came from. Anyway, we have now at least one clinical case that proves the myth has some validity, so we better chomp our food carefully from now on.

British Medical Journal Case Reports had the story about an elderly man staying long in the hospital after his bowel got obstructed and later perforated. The reason is really banal: he ate a lot of chestnuts without chewing them properly. No wonder – he had lost his dentures.

The 61 years old Australian man called the emergency after he had severe abdominal pain for more than 12 hours and was carried immediately to a hospital in Victoria. After all the CT scans and various medical tests, the doctors tried to figure out the reasons for his serious symptoms. They even considered the possibility of a tumor or an internal hernia. However, the reason was much simple: a large number of unchewed chestnuts blocked his bowel and resulted in further complications even the doctors would never think of. 

Doctors decided to do laparoscopic surgery. Only after the operation started, did they realize that the man’s small intestine was pierced and perforated, at least ten times. And if this wouldn’t be enough trouble, they also found phytobezoars in the patient’s bowel, that are basically solidified lumps of indigestible plant material like seeds, fibers, or skins. If you follow a normal diet, you don’t have to be afraid of getting phytobezoars, risk factors are, for example, recent gastric surgery or being diabetic. This poor old man suffered from type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Laparoscopic surgery on the go. Source:


And how did this bizarre accident end?

The masses of undigested chestnut was finally “milked out” of his bowel, through the keyhole the doctors made for the surgery. It was basically a process while the mass had been gently squeezed out of his towel. For nearly 2 weeks he could not eat anything, his bowels had to rest and recover, so he got the nutrition through alternate methods. He had to spend 4 weeks in the hospital.

After he recovered, a study has been done about his quite uncommon case. In the study the authors concluded that it was the first case reported when eating – but not digesting – chestnut caused small bowel obstruction (SBO) and severe, multiple perforations throughout the small bowel. The medical literature, however, mentions cases of single perforation resulted also by improperly consuming chestnut and another case when a woman swallowed a cherry tomato in whole by accident and got bowel obstruction.

After all this, we can be thankful to our dear Grannies, who – with her sometimes annoying words of wisdom – basically just wanted to save our lives.