Patients who undergo abdominal surgery normally experience nausea, vomiting, cramps, and the pain and discomfort associated with abdominal distension. It is because of the inability of the intestines to pass contents after surgery (postoperative ileus).
In each of the five trials, a group of patients who chewed sugarless gum for 5 to 45 minutes, three times a day, after abdominal surgery were compared to a group of patients who did not chew gum. Patients who chewed gum took an average of 0.66 fewer days to pass gas and an average of 1.10 fewer days to have a bowel movement than those who didn't chew gum. It was observed that patients who chewed gum also left the hospital sooner after the surgery than those who didn't.
The research team at St. Mary's Hospital in London believes that gum chewing acts as a type of "sham feeding" that stimulates nerves in the digestive system, prompting release of gastrointestinal hormones and thereby increasing production of saliva and secretions from the pancreas.
The researchers wrote in the August issue of the Archives of Surgery
, "In conclusion, we feel that the evidence suggests that gum chewing following abdominal surgery offers significant benefits in reducing the time to resolution of ileus; however, the studies are insufficiently powered to identify a significant benefit in length of stay."
"The potential benefits to individual patients, in health economics terms, are such that a well-designed, large-scale, blinded, randomized, controlled trial with a placebo arm is warranted to answer the question of whether gum chewing can significantly reduce the length of stay after abdominal surgery or whether it merely represents a placebo effect," the study observed.