New Clinical Trial Shows Coffee Speeds Up Recovery after Colon Surgery

A comparative study of 80 patients carried out at the University Hospital Heidelberg in Germany, has shown that patients who drink coffee rather than water after colon surgery experience a quicker return to bowel movements and tolerance of solid food.

“Post-operative 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,” said Dr Sascha Müller of the Kantonsspital St Gallen in Switzerland, lead author of a paper reporting the results in the British Journal of Surgery.

80 patients with similar characteristics were randomized into two (‘coffee’ and ‘water’) groups before their operation. The majority had open surgery (61 per cent) and the remainder had laparoscopic surgery. They were given 100 ml of coffee or water three times a day.

Time to first bowel movements after surgery was just over 60 hours in the coffee group, while patients in the water group had first bowel movement in 74 hours. Patients in the coffee group were able to tolerate solid food in just over 49 hours, compared to about 56 hours in the water group.

“This randomized trial showed that the time to first bowel movement after surgery was much shorter in the coffee drinkers than the water drinkers,” Dr Müller said. “Although 10 per cent of the patients did not want to drink strong coffee at this time, 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,” Dr Müller concluded.

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Bibliographic information: Müller S.A. 2012. Randomized clinical trial on the effect of coffee on postoperative ileus following elective colectomy. British Journal of Surgery, vol. 99, no. 11, 1530–1538; doi: 10.1002/bjs.8885