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Chew On This: Gum Helps Surgery, But Not Diets


Chewing gum fans won one and lost one this week: A new study found that chewing gum after colon surgery could help shorten your hospital stay. On the other hand, chewing gum failed to help dieters eat less in another study.

People who have surgery for colon cancer - meaning a portion of the colon is removed -  typically spend several days in the hospital waiting for their intestines to start working again so they can eat normally. Previous studies have suggested that chewing gum stimulates digestive action in the gut, helping it recover from surgery more quickly.

In the new study, published in the Annals of Surgery, researchers from the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, randomly assigned half of 161 patients having colon surgery to chew gum four times a day after surgery, and half not to chew gum, Reuters reported.

The researchers wanted to see how fast the digestive system began to function normally in the two groups. The no-gum group took an average of 51 hours - just over two days - for their intestines to start gearing up again, compared to 43 hours among gum chewers. According to the researchers, that's not big enough of a difference statistically to be able to say it wasn't just due to chance (although it is about a 16 percent improvement for the gum chewers).

But Conor Delaney, M.D., of University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, who wasn't involved in the new research, told Reuters that "there's a lot of data suggesting that it's probably about a 20-hour improvement" that comes with gum chewing. The Australia study, he said, may have been too small to show a clear enough difference.

Delaney said he and his own team advise patients who receive less-invasive colon surgery to chew gum as part of their recovery plan. He says it helps them cut their hospital stay to two and a half days, on average.

The Australian researchers did point out that there weren't any negative side effects to chewing gum, so, basically, why not try it?

However, if you hope that chomping on some sugar-free gum will help keep you from overeating, sorry: An Ohio State University study finds that gum chewers ate fewer, but larger meals than did non-gum chewers. Not only did they end up eating about the same number of calories as non-gum chewers, their meals were less nutritious, reported The

The study, published in the April issue of the journal Eating Behaviors, suggests that chewing gum may lead people to eat chips, cookies and candy instead of fruits and veggies. That's because menthol, the chemical responsible for the minty-fresh flavor of some types of gum makes fruits and veggies taste funny, explained LiveScience.

There was less of an effect among those who chewed fruit-flavored gum, but all of the gum chewers also reported feeling hungrier afterwards than the non-gum chewers.

It was a small study, however - just 44 subjects - and they chewed gum before a meal, not after. Some research has indicated that chewing gum after a meal not only improves digestion and reduces indigestion, it helps reduce the craving for something sweet (and caloric).

Photo:  kiltedlibrarian /flickr


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