London: British surgeons have claimed that chewing sugar-free gums can help bowel cancer patients get their digestive system back to normal faster after their operation.

Chewing gum has helped new mothers recovering from caesarean sections, as well as patients undergoing stomach surgery, who can suffer from painful cramps until digestion returns to normal, research has found.

Now, a team at the University College London Hospital is prescribing patients booked for bowel cancer surgery to bring supplies of sugar-free gum with them to be chewed three times a day, for an hour, after their operation.

Consultant colorectal surgeon Alastair Windsor said that the trial is part of a programme to find new ways to help patients recover from treatment.

He said that many patients undergoing many types of surgery likely to affect their digestive system could benefit from bringing gum to hospital but advised them to ask their own doctor first.

"One of the things that delay people recovering from surgery is that they get what is called an ileas where the bowel goes to sleep. It seems that chewing gum can stimulate the saliva, which starts enzyme production in the pancreas and that then stimulates gastro-intestinal activity," he was
quoted by 'The Daily Telegraph' as saying.

The trial, which began six months ago, has yet to publish results but the surgeons said so far patients were responding well to it.

Dr Windsor said, "Patients seem to like it and in particular to like the fact they are doing something to aid the recovery. We don't yet know how far it is speeding up their recovery but there doesn't seem to be a downside to it."

The surgeon added, "If I was a patient going into hospital for surgery, I would say talk to your medical team first but from all the research done, it seems that chewing gum is something that can help patients and for most people, it is certainly unlikely to do any harm."

Different studies from across the world have shown faster recovery when patients are asked to chew gum but it is not known whether the act works as a placebo, improving patients' sense of well-being and reducing stress or whether the impact is physical.