Gum-Chewers Back to Normal Faster After Certain Surgeries

There’s a time and a place for everything, they say — even chewing gum, apparently. British researchers have found that chewing gum after colon surgery can help restore intestinal function.


If you’ve ever had abdominal surgery, you’ve been subject to the embarrassing questions from the nursing staff about whether or not you’ve successfully passed gas or moved your bowels. That’s because doing so indicates everything is beginning to operate more normally. Post-operative ileus — the inability of the intestines to pass contents following colon surgery — is an all too common problem that contributes to pain, nausea, vomiting and abdominal swelling. In five trials reviewed by British researchers, post-surgical patients chewed one piece of sugarless gum (though it doesn’t have to be sugarless) for five to 45 minutes, three times a day. In comparison to those who did not chew gum, the gum chewers…

  • Took on average a half-day less to pass gas.
  • Took on average one day less to have a bowel movement.
  • Were discharged from the hospital a day earlier.

Gum chewing may help by stimulating the digestive system, encouraging it to get moving once again after surgery. Daily Health News contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND, explains that the vagus nerve — a key nerve that originates in the brain and extends down to the colon — is activated by the sight, thought, taste or smell of food. This stimulates gastric juice production. The vagus nerve also controls peristalsis, the automatic movement of food through the digestive tract. While eating may also act as a stimulant, most people cannot tolerate it so soon after surgery.

Findings were published in the August 2008 issue of Archives of Surgery. Researchers note that larger, randomized studies are required to learn more about how post-surgical gum chewing can reduce the length of stay.

Chewing is a good short-term practice to help return normal gastrointestinal function, says Dr. Rubman. Yet he also recommends caution: If you start to feel cramping while chewing gum, stop and wait for it to pass. But if you feel better and find that function is improving, have another piece. This is an easy way to help yourself heal.