Booster Shots

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Speeding up that elusive fart

August 19, 2008 |  1:58 pm

Anyone who has ever had a colonoscopy knows that medical personnel don't let you go home after the procedure until your body proves, in one of its more embarrassing and disgusting ways, that things are moving along correctly down there. They make sure that you've passed gas before they let you put your clothes on and go home.

Amy23 Just imagine how much more important it is to prove yourself after you've had a colectomy, to remove all or part of the colon. Now, researchers from London have published a paper in the Archives of Surgery analyzing five trials in which 158 patients were either given chewing gum after surgery or conventional drug treatments to help them recover intestinal function.

After surgery, those who chewed gum experienced the first passage of flatus a full day sooner than those who did not. Even better, those who chewed gum had their first bowel movement a full day sooner. And the savings from fewer hospital days and less treatment to make it happen adds up.

“Postoperative ileus [inability of the intestines to pass contents] is regarded as an inevitable response to the trauma of abdominal surgery and is a major contributing factor to postoperative pain and discomfort associated with abdominal distension, nausea, vomiting and cramping pain,” the authors write as background information in the article.

The problem is estimated to cost about $1 billion in U.S. healthcare expenditures, according to the press release. Getting people out of the hospital even a day sooner would save big bucks.

Here's where I want to take a second to assure you that I'm not a fifth-grader. But still, it got me wondering about the relationship between chewing gum and, you know, flatulence. So I went on the NIH website and learned in passing (so to speak) that each of us -- including you -- produce about 1 to 4 pints of gas each day, and pass it about 14 to 23 times a day.

Discreetly, of course.

But back to the gum. Gas is caused by swallowing air, which we all do when we eat and drink. But chewing gum ups the amount of air swallowed. So maybe on prom night, or a first date or about a million other social situations that could prove embarrassing, you might want to skip the gum. But post-intestinal surgery, ask your doctor if he or she has a stick to spare.

-- Susan Brink

Photo: AP Photo/Yui Mok/PA Wire. Amy Winehouse spits out her chewing gum while performing.