Chewing stimulates the nerves of the digestive system
Chewing gum aids recovery from bowel surgery, mounting evidence suggests.
The latest work published in Archives of Surgery reviews data from five recent trials involving 158 patients.
Chewing gum appears to speed up the return of normal bowel function by stimulating nerves in the digestive system, say the UK report's authors.
Trials are now needed to see if this, in turn, can reduce the recovery time needed in hospital, the London-based team from St Mary's Hospital say.
In each study, a group of patients chewed sugarless gum three times per day following surgery for a period of five to 45 minutes and were compared with patients who did not chew gum.
Patients who chewed gum passed gas and had a bowel movement sooner than those who did not chew gum - signs that their bowel function returned sooner.
Any type of abdominal surgery can slow down or halt bowel function - a condition known as ileus, which can cause serious complications.
In four of the trials, the length of hospital stay after an operation was also a day shorter for the patients who chewed gum.
But the researchers say more work is needed to see if this is a direct link rather than a chance finding.
If chewing gum did reduce hospital stay, this could save the NHS millions of pounds, say the researchers, given that more than 31,000 bowel operations are carried out in England each year and an overnight stay in hospital costs the NHS around £200.
An advisory nurse for Bowel Cancer UK said: "Chewing is a bit like eating and it starts peristalsis, which is the movement of the bowel.
"Ileus - when the bowel is slow to start working again - can occur after an operation, but it has become less common as surgery has become more refined.
"There is some evidence that chewing gum might help, but not enough that bowel surgery patients are routinely being advised to chew gum."