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Coffee beneficial to patients after bowel surgery

Wednesday October 10, 2012
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Patients who drank coffee instead of water after bowel surgery to remove a part of their colon experienced a quicker return to bowel movements and tolerance of solid food, according to a comparative study of 80 patients.

"Postoperative bowel obstruction is a common problem after abdominal surgery, and the aim of this study was to test our theory that coffee would help to alleviate this," Dr. Sascha Müller, who led the study investigation at University Hospital Heidelberg in Germany and now is based at Kantonsspital St Gallen, Switzerland, said in a news release.

The 80 patients were randomized into coffee and water groups before their operation, with one patient in the water arm excluded due to a change in their surgical procedure.

Patient characteristics were similar in both groups. Their average age was 61, and 56% were male; 56% had colonic cancer, 28% had diverticular disease, 13% had inflammatory bowel disease and 4% had other conditions. The majority (61%) had open surgery and the remainder had laparoscopic surgery. The patients were given 100 milliliters of coffee or water three times a day.

Time to first bowel movement after surgery was just over 60 hours in the coffee group and 74 hours in the water group.

Patients in the coffee group were able to tolerate solid food in just over 49 hours, compared to just under 56 hours in the water group. Length of hospital stay and ill health were similar in both groups.

"This randomized trial showed that the time to first bowel movement after surgery was much shorter in the coffee drinkers than the water drinkers," Müller said. "… It was well-accepted by the group and no coffee-related complications were noted.

"It is not clear how coffee stimulates the intestine, and caffeine appears to have been ruled out by previous studies, which found that decaffeinated coffee, which was not used in this study, also has beneficial effects. Whatever the mechanism, it is clear that postoperative coffee consumption is a cheap and safe way to activate bowel motility after elective colonic surgery."

The study appears in the British Journal of Surgery and is available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bjs.8885/full.

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