CAM Cost EffectivenessChewing gumSurgery

Benefit of chewing gum on recovery from colon surgery

In England, there were more than 31,000 operations to remove a section of the large intestine (colectomy) from 2004 to 2005. These patients average 13 to 26 days in the hospital.

Might chewing gum help?

First, the details.

  • The reviewers conducted a re-analysis of the data (meta-analysis) from 5 studies of 158 patients who had colectomy.
  • In each study, a group of patients chewed sugarless gum 3 times per day following surgery for 5 to 45 minutes and were compared to non-gum-chewing colectomy patients.
  • The time to return to normal bowel function and the length of hospitalization after surgery (post-operative) were recorded.

And, the results.

  • The days until patients passed gas (flatus) was significantly reduce by 16 hours.
  • The time until the first post-surgery bowel movement was signficantly reduced by about 1 day compared to the controls.
  • The length of stay in the hospital after the operation was also reduced in the chewing gum group by more than 1 day — not statistically significant.
  • Most importantly, this result was significant in studies that excluded patients with stomas (opening in the abdominal wall) formed during the surgery.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “Chewing gum may enhance intestinal recovery following colectomy and reduce the length of hospital stay.”

They think that gum chewing might act as a kind of “sham feeding” that stimulates the digestive system, triggering the release of gastrointestinal hormones, saliva, and secretions from the pancreas, ending with a bowel movement.

A bigger, better, placebo-controlled study would be useful to confirm their findings.

Here’s a loose estimate of the potential financial importance of this report. I can’t find the daily cost of hospitalization in the UK for colectomy. So, I’m going to patch together an estimate for the US where the average cost per hospital day ranges from about $1100 for regular care compared to $2400 when intensive care is required (2006 estimate).

Even at the lower charge, sugarless chewing gum looks like a pretty potent complementary post-operative therapy.

8/18/08 21:40 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.