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Can Chewing Gum Speed Surgery Recovery?: May 2, 2013

With daily chatter about bubbles bursting, inflation and shrinking budgets- there’s one thing we can count on blowing up- chewing gum.

It never seems to go out of style.

“Whenever I’m playing soccer or whatever I like to chew it, it keeps me focused and takes the anxiety away,” says Anneila Guerra.

Now surgeons are finding another, somewhat novel use for gum: it may help speed recovery after surgery involving the stomach, gallbladder, colon or liver.

“The problem with this intestinal surgery is when you put the patient to sleep the intestine goes to sleep too. The patient wakes up but the intestine goes to sleep. So we are trying everything to make sure the intestine is back to normal function before we send the patient home,” says Dr. Moutta BenMaamer, general surgeon with Lee Memorial Health System.

Doctors wait for a patient to have a bowel movement to be sure their intestines are working properly. That can takes days following major surgery. The theory is chewing gum shift’s their body back in drive.

“I think stimulation of the mouth may be the reason for the intestine to start functioning again,” says Dr. BenMaamer.

The period of time after abdominal surgery when the GI system is stagnant is called ileus. Researchers actually tested to see if this window is shortened when a patient chews gum and found in many cases, it is.

“Any way to decrease that ileus would be good and chewing gum would be good. Because it doesn’t have any complications. If you find something that is soft, no complications why not? And it’s cheap,” says Dr. BenMaamer.

There are no protocols about type, amount or frequency of gum use.  But it’s long been used as a snappy substitute for food.

“If you’re chewing, you wouldn’t be thinking of food or munching or snacks or anything, if you have something already in your mouth,” says Guerra.