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News / August 21, 2008

Chewing gum helps bowel function

by Guy Hiscott

Chewing gum appears to speed up the return of normal bowel function by stimulating nerves in the digestive system, research suggests.

The latest work published in Archives of Surgery reviews data from five recent trials involving 158 patients.

In each study, 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.

Patients who chewed gum showed signs that their bowel function returned sooner.

Any type of abdominal surgery can slow down or halt bowel function – a condition known as ileus, which can cause serious complications.

In four of the trials, the length of hospital stay after an operation was also a day shorter for the patients who chewed gum. But the researchers say more work is needed to see if this is a direct link rather than a chance finding.

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.’