London: Chewing sugar-free gum after operations can help bowel cancer patients get their digestive systems back to normal and recover faster, scientists say.
Studies have found that patients undergoing surgery likely to affect their bowel function were fit enough to go home as much as two days earlier than other patients if they chewed gum.
It`s also found that chewing gum has helped new moms recovering from caesarean sections, as well as patients undergoing stomach surgery, who can suffer from painful cramps until digestion returns to normal.
Now, surgeons at University College London Hospital are asking patients booked for bowel cancer surgery to bring supplies of sugar-free gum with them, to be chewed three times a day, for an hour, after their operation, BBC News reported.
Consultant colorectal surgeon Alastair Windsor said the trial is part of a programme to find new ways to help patients recover from treatment.
He said many patients undergoing many types of surgery likely to affect their digestive system could benefit from bringing gum to hospital - but advised them to ask their own doctor first.
Windsor said: "One of the things that delays people recovering from surgery is that they get what is called an ileas -- where the bowel goes to sleep.
"It seems that chewing gum can stimulate the saliva, which starts enzyme production in the pancreas, and that then stimulates gastro-intestinal activity."
The trial, which began six months ago, has yet to publish results, but the surgeon said so far patients were responding well to it.
Windsor said: "Patients seem to like it and in particular to like the fact they are doing something to aid the recovery.
We don`t yet know how far it is speeding up their recovery, but there doesn`t seem to be a downside to it."
"If I was a patient going into hospital for surgery, I would say talk to your medical team first, but from all the research done, it seems that chewing gum is something that can help patients and for most people, it is certainly unlikely to do any harm," the surgeon added.
However, researchers said, it is not known whether chewing gum works as a placebo, improving patients` sense of well-being, and reducing stress -- which could in itself improve bowel function -- or whether the impact is physical.