A condition known as postoperative ileus can develop after such operations where the intestines cannot get rid of their contents, leading to stomach distension, sickness, vomiting and bowel cramps.
A team from St Mary’s Hospital reviewed data from five trials involving small numbers of patients that chewed sugar free gum three times a day after surgery and compared them to those who did not chew gum.
Combining the results of the 158 patients, they found those that chewed gum took an average of 0.66 fewer days to pass gas and an average of 1.10 fewer days to open their bowels. Post-operative length of stay was also assessed in four of the trials involving 134 patients and was reduced by more than a day in the chewing gum group. However this was too small to be statistically significant.
Lead author Dr Sanjay Purkayastha has now called for randomised controlled trials to test out whether this is a genuine effect or merely a placebo effect.
Earlier this year, German gastroenterologists reported that chewing large amounts of sugar free gum can lead to severe weight loss and bowel problems because of the laxative effect of artificial sweeteners.