Chewing gum is associated with enhanced recovery of intestinal function following surgery to remove all or part of the colon, according to an analysis of previously published studies in the August issue of Archives of Surgery.
"Postoperative ileus [inability of the intestines to pass contents] is regarded as an inevitable response to the trauma of abdominal surgery and is a major contributing factor to postoperative pain and discomfort associated with abdominal distension, nausea, vomiting and cramping pain," the authors write as background information in the article.
Sanjay Purkayastha and colleagues at St Mary's Hospital, London, analysed data from five trials published in or before July 2006 and involving 158 patients. In each trial, a group of patients chewed sugarless gum three times per day following surgery for a period of five to 45 minutes and were compared with patients who did not chew gum.
When the trial results were combined, patients who chewed gum took an average of .66 fewer days to pass flatus (gas) and an average of 1.10 fewer days to have a bowel movement, both signs of returning intestinal function.
Gum chewing is thought to act as a kind of "sham feeding", stimulating nerves in the digestive system, triggering the release of gastrointestinal hormones and increasing the production of saliva and secretions from the pancreas, the authors note.
More research is needed to answer the question whether gum chewing can significantly reduce the length of stay after abdominal surgery or whether it merely represents a placebo effect, they write.