FRIDAY Oct. 12, 2012 — Drinking coffee instead of water may restore normal bowel function more quickly among people who have had surgery to remove part of their colon, a new study suggests.
Researchers at University Hospital Heidelberg, in Germany, also found that these patients were able to tolerate solid food sooner after their operation than people who didn’t drink coffee.
The study was published in the November issue of the surgical journal BJS.
“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,” study lead author Dr. Sascha Muller, who is now based at Kantonsspital St. Gallen, in Switzerland, said in a journal news release.
The researchers recruited 80 patients with colon cancer, diverticular disease (a structural problem in the wall of their colon), inflammatory bowel disease or another condition. The patients were an average of 61 years old and slightly more than half were men.
Participants were divided into two groups: those who drank coffee and those who drank water after colon surgery. The patients were given 100 milliliters (about half a cup) of coffee or water at three different times during the day.
Coffee drinkers took slightly more than 60 hours to make their first bowel movement after surgery, the study found. Water drinkers, on the other hand, took 74 hours.
The coffee group also tolerated solid food in just more than 49 hours after surgery. The water drinkers took 56 hours to do the same. The coffee drinkers were also able to pass wind within 41 hours after surgery compared with 46 hours for water drinkers.
“This randomized trial showed that the time to first bowel movement after surgery was much shorter in the coffee drinkers than the water drinkers,” Muller said. No coffee-related complications were seen in the study.
Exactly how coffee restores bowel function is uncertain, the researchers noted. “Whatever the mechanism, it is clear that postoperative coffee consumption is a cheap and safe way to activate bowel motility after elective colonic surgery,” they wrote.
Although the researchers found an association between coffee consumption and earlier bowel movements after surgery, they did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.