Chewing Gum May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery

Chewing Gum May Speed Colon Surgery RecoveryA new study has found that chewing gum can reduce recovery time and even reduce hospital stay after bowel surgery.

Published in Archives of Surgery, the study reviewed data from five recent trials with 158 patients. It reported that chewing gum stimulated nerves in the digestive system, which speed up the recovery of normal bowel function. The London-based team from St Mary's Hospital said trials are underway to see if this could also mean a reduction in the recovery time needed in the hospital.                                                                                                     

The costs in the U.S. alone are estimated to be up to $1 billion every year on postoperative ileus which is the medical term for the inability of the bowels to function normally following surgery.

The savings could be more than $100 million in annual health care feel experts. More than 31,000 bowel operations are carried out in England each year with an overnight stay in hospital costing the NHS around £200 and reducing the hospital stay would mean saving the NHS millions of pounds.

Colorectal surgeon Joshua Katz, MD, said, "Postoperative ileus remains the single greatest barrier to [hospital] discharge in otherwise uncomplicated colorectal surgery. If this relatively easy, safe and cheap intervention can help, it is certainly something worth trying."

Any type of abdominal surgery can slow down or halt bowel function, which in turn can cause serious complications. After surgical removal of all or part of the colon, gum chewing was found to speed up the time it took the intestines to begin working again. Studies were conducted on patients who chewed gum post surgery and those who did not. Patients who chewed gum passed gas and had a bowel movement sooner than those who did not chew gum, which are signs that their bowel function returned sooner. Non gum chewers were found to take an average of two-thirds of a day longer to pass gas and a little over a day more to have a bowel movement.

An advisory nurse for Bowel Cancer UK said, "Chewing is a bit like eating and it starts peristalsis, which is the movement of the bowel. Ileus - when the bowel is slow to start working again - can occur after an operation, but it has become less common as surgery has become more refined. There is some evidence that chewing gum might help, but not enough that bowel surgery patients are routinely being advised to chew gum."

Researcher Sanjay Purkayastha, BSc and colleagues from St. Mary's Hospital in London, say gum chewing stimulates bowel recovery in a similar way to eating. It triggers the release of gastrointestinal hormones and increases the production of saliva and secretions from the pancreas. "We feel that the current evidence suggests that gum chewing following abdominal surgery offers significant benefits in reducing the time to resolution of ileus; however, the studies are insufficiently powered to identify a significant benefit in length of [hospital] stay."

The researchers feel larger, randomized studies are needed to specifically study post surgical gum chewing and hospital stay after an abdominal surgery.

Katz said, "This doesn't mean that if you give someone chewing gum they will just jump out of bed and feel good enough to go home," he says. "This is major surgery. Chewing gum is just one piece of the puzzle," he adds.