Chewing gum after colon surgery helps recovery

Chomping on a wad of gum may not be the most attractive habit, but a new study suggests that having a good chew may actually help patients recover more quickly from gastrointestinal surgery.

U.S. researchers have found that patients prescribed gum after lower colon surgery got out of hospital on average 2 1/2 days ahead of those who weren't told to chew the popular confectionery item.

"It's basically a very simple concept — and that is that people after operations, including colon operations, have what's called ileus, a sort of paralysis of the intestines," said Dr. Kenneth Waxman, a general surgeon at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and principal investigator of the study.

"And that's why it takes a while before you can start eating again after you have abdominal surgery," Waxman said from Santa Barbara, Calif. "And in colon surgery, that can be a substantial time, frequently four or five days before the colon wakes up and starts (muscular contractions) again", reports Toronto Star.

Study participants had no problem chewing sugarless gum three times a day. Chewing stimulates nerves that promote the release of hormones responsible for activating the gastrointestinal system, wrote study author Rob Schuster of Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in California.

Seventeen of 34 patients who chewed gum beginning a few hours after surgery passed gas several hours sooner than the half who did not chew, and they had their first bowel movements an average of 63 hours after surgery compared with 89 hours for non-chewers.

The gum chewers got out of the hospital an average of 4.3 days after surgery versus 6.8 days for non-chewers, reducing costs and lowering the risk of complications.

All had had a section of their lower intestines removed because of cancer or chronic infection.

"We conclude that gum chewing early in the postoperative period following (surgery) hastens time to bowel motility and ability to tolerate feedings," the report said. "This inexpensive and well-tolerated treatment resulted in earlier hospital discharge", informs Reuters.


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