Patients who chew gum have shorter hospital stays after laparoscopic colon surgery than those who don't chew gum, according to a recent study.

In laparoscopic surgery, surgeons use video-equipped tools inserted through a tiny incision to operate in a specific area.

"We know that patients who undergo laparoscopic surgery have a faster recovery and less pain than with traditional techniques. We wanted to see if we could do even better. People today want to get home as soon as possible, back to their lives and families," says Dr. James McCormick, a laparoscopic surgeon at The Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh and a lead investigator in this study. "something as simple as chewing gum can help make that a reality," he says.

The Study

In the study, 102 patients undergoing elective colon resection surgery were divided into two groups. Those in the control group received the standard fare after abdominal surgery-sips of clear liquid. Patients in the other group were given gum to chew at mealtimes in addition to the clear liquid.

On average, patients who chewed gum went home one day sooner than those who didn't chew gum, the researchers report.

The study authors say chewing gum after surgery can prevent or reduce postoperative ileus, a condition in which the digestive system becomes inactive for a period of time. Ileus is a major cause of postoperative problems and prolonged hospital stays, and costs up to $1 billion a year in the United States, the researchers say.

Sham Feeding

"There are a few scientific theories which attempt to explain why this approach works. Most prevalent is the concept of 'sham feeding,' " McCormick says.

"It is normal to sit down at meal time and chew and swallow for 15 minutes," he explains. "Gum chewing simulates that activity nicely. The sooner the body thinks it is normal, the sooner it will act normally. And the sooner you get to go home."

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