by Woods M

The digestive system often has a brief shutdown after abdominal surgery. While not a major health concern, it can cause a lot of discomfort, can slow recovery, and may result in longer hospital stays. It is associated with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and discomfort. Chewing gum is believed to stimulate the digestive system by tricking it into believing that food is coming. The stimulation may help kickstart the digestive tract.

Researchers from the United Kingdom wanted to examine whether chewing gum after surgery speeds the return of normal function. The systematic review, published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, found that chewing gum may improve bowel activity and reduce hospital stay in participants after abdominal surgery.

About the Study

The systematic review included 81 randomized trials that compared outcomes in 9,072 participants after abdominal surgery. Participants were assigned to chewing gum or no intervention after abdominal surgeries such as colorectal surgery, cesarean section, appendectomy, gastrointestinal surgery, prostatectomy, gastrectomy, gynecological surgery, and urological procedures. The return of digestive system function was measured through passing of gas (flatus), bowel movements, and bowel sounds. The length of sty in the hospital was also measured.

Participants that chewed gum after surgery tended to have quicker recovery of the digestive tract. Those who chewed gum had:

  • First flatus 10.4 hours earlier than those without gum in an analysis of 77 trials
  • First bowel movement 12.6 hours earlier than those without gum in an analysis of 62 trials
  • First bowel sounds 5 hours earlier than those without gum in an analysis of 23 trials

An analysis of 50 trials also found that those who chewed gum had about a half day, shorter stay in the hospital than those who did not chew gum. There was no difference in complications such as infection.

How Does This Affect You?

A systematic review is considered a highly reliable form of research because it combines large pools of data. This study included a large number of participants, which makes the results more reliable. However, the review is only as reliable as the studies that make it up. This systematic review contained randomized trials, which is generally a reliable form of research; however, most of the included trials were small and of poor quality. The low quality can decrease the reliability of the outcomes.

The outcomes from this trial are not strong enough to make a major change in surgical recovery procedures. There are several approaches being tried to improve outcomes after surgery including recovery of digestive tract. If you are having surgery talk to your medical team before surgery about what you can expect during recovery. Discuss symptoms you may be experiencing after surgery with your medical team to have as smooth a recovery as possible.


American College of Gastroenterology 

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians 


Prevention and management of postoperative ileus. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated March 23, 2015. Accessed April 2, 2015.

Short V, Herbert G. Chewing gum for postoperative recovery of gastrointestinal function. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Feb 20;2.

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