Chew on This: Gum Speeds Some Surgery Recovery

Healthnotes Newswire (April 6, 2006)—Gum chewing speeds recovery after colon surgery, a study in the Archives of Surgery reports. A long delay in the return of bowel function, known as ileus, can lead to longer hospital stays, hospital-acquired infections, and other complications. Patients with ileus have pain, abdominal swelling and pressure, and vomiting.

The main objective after bowel surgery is to stimulate the return of normal bowel function. Physicians have tried several methods to hasten recovery; however, the results have not always been satisfactory. The cost of postsurgical ileus in the United States is estimated to be $750 million per year.

Researchers have proposed that chewing itself might be sufficient to stimulate the nerve reflex that signals the brain to order the release of digestive juices and increase peristalsis, the synchronized, rippling motion of muscles in the digestive tract. To test this hypothesis, they studied 34 people undergoing elective colon surgery for diverticulitis or colon cancer to see if gum chewing would stimulate the muscular contractions of the intestines and speed the return of bowel function.

The people were randomly divided into either a gum-chewing group that chewed sugarless gum three times daily for one hour each time until they were discharged from the hospital, or a non-gum-chewing control group. Patients in both groups had similar characteristics and received similar care during and after surgery. Signs of normal bowel function, such as feeling hungry and passing gas, were felt sooner in the gum-chewing group than in the control group. The hospital stay was shorter in the gum-chewing group (4.3 days) than in the control group (6.8 days).

Gum chewing is an inexpensive and helpful adjunct to postoperative care after bowel surgery. The authors give us some interesting numbers to chew on as well: they estimate that the decreased time spent in the hospital because of this simple intervention would save nearly $120 million every year in the United States but would cost less than $50,000 for the gum.

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.

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