The other day I unearthed a stick of Big Red chewing gum from the bottom of my purse that I swear has been there since the Bush Administration. And to be honest, I can’t even tell you which Bush.
I tossed it into the trash, of course. Although truthfully, it looked and smelled just fine. But I just finished reading a bizarre study that finds I may have accidentally just ditched a valuable medical tool when I did.
Because it turns out a plain old stick of chewing gum could hold the key to beating a painful post-surgery complication.
There’s an old proverb that says truth is stranger than fiction. And this gum-chewing breakthrough certainly fits the bill.
Take 2 sticks and call me in the morning
Yes, I really AM talking about regular old, run-of-the-mill chewing gum here. Researchers say it could help prevent a fairly common, painful problem people can experience after surgery.
It’s called postoperative ileus. It’s when your intestine simply stops pushing food along. So everything just sits there, like when a factory conveyor belt comes to a halt.
An ileus is typically a reaction to the anesthesia you get during surgery. And the condition often clears up on its own in a couple of days. But in the meantime, additional digested food can enter the “conveyor belt,” and things can really start to back up.
That can quickly lead to major bloating and eventually outright pain. In the worst cases, an ileus can cause potentially dangerous blockages and other serious complications.
If you’ve ever had surgery and didn’t end up with the condition, thank your lucky stars. It’s one of the most frequent complications after heart surgery, for example, striking about 1 in 20 patients.
But as strange as it sounds, GUM could help.
Surgery scheduled? Pack some gum!
The new study tracked a group of folks recovering from elective open-heart surgery, aortic valve replacement, or mitral valve repair or replacement.
Some of the volunteers were given gum to chew on after their procedure. While other folks got just the usual care alone. And it turns out the gum took a BIG bite out of the risk for developing an ileus.
Just two of the 341 gum-chewing patients—or 0.59 percent—developed postoperative ileus. In the non-gum chewing group, however, 17 of the 496 volunteers developed the condition. That’s a rate of 3.43 percent or nearly SIX TIMES higher.
But it’s not just folks who’ve had heart surgery who are at risk, of course. Postoperative ileus can have several causes, including anesthesia and painkillers. That means it’s a risk after any major operation.
And while this particular study focused on heart surgery patients, there’s every reason to believe that this gum-chewing trick could help reduce your ileus risk regardless of the procedure. In fact, earlier studies have already found similar positive results for folks recovering from colon and other bowel surgeries.
Experts believe it works by tricking your body into thinking you’re eating food, stimulating your intestines to start working again.
So if you or a loved one have surgery scheduled, go ahead and give your doctor a call before the procedure to ask if he’s seen the research. And get his thumbs up to chew gum while recovering in the hospital.
If he’s on board, toss a couple of packs of your favorite sugar-free chewing gum in with your other hospital essentials. Then after your surgery, once you’re in the clear and it’s safe to do so, get to chewing.
Blowing bubbles is entirely optional. But I recommend it. It’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Oh, and beating post-surgery complications isn’t the only benefit hiding inside that pack of gum. Click here to discover how picking up a gum-chewing habit could help you effortlessly burn through more calories.