The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can Coffee Help You Leave the Hospital Sooner?

People who drink coffee after abdominal surgery get their bowels moving faster and can often leave the hospital earlier. Three cups daily did the trick.
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What determines how soon you can leave the hospital? When people undergo abdominal surgery such as for appendicitis or colon cancer, doctors and nurses delay discharge until they have evidence of reestablished bowel function. That can take several days. Surgeons worry about postoperative ileus, the failure of the bowels to move normally. Patients may suffer bloating, nausea and vomiting and be unable to eat (Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, Oct. 2008). Needless to say, they are unable to leave the hospital and return home in that condition.

How Does Coffee Help People Leave the Hospital Earlier?

Coffee has a long-standing reputation for facilitating bowel activity. A randomized controlled trial conducted in Switzerland included more than 100 patients (Diseases of the Colon and Rectum, Aug, 2019). Half the patients got three cups of caffeinated coffee a day, one cup morning, noon and early evening. The other half got decaf tea as a control.

The people drinking coffee had their first bowel movement sooner, which allowed them to leave the hospital earlier.

The authors concluded:

“Because of its easy availability and low adverse effects, coffee could be integrated in the postoperative management of patients undergoing colorectal resections.”

Other Research on Coffee for the Bowels:

This is not the first research to show benefits from drinking coffee. Lithuanian investigators reported earlier that patients consuming 100 ml of coffee three times daily could leave the hospital sooner (Diseases of the Colon and Rectum, Nov. 2015). They found, however, that decaf coffee was even better for promoting bowel activity.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Lubawski J & Saclarides T, "Postoperative ileus: Strategies for reduction." Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, Oct. 2008.
  • Hasler-Gehrer S et al, "Does coffee intake reduce postoperative ileus after laparoscopic elective colorectal surgery? A prospective, randomized controlled study: The coffee study." Diseases of the Colon and Rectum, Aug, 2019. DOI: 10.1097/DCR.0000000000001405
  • Dulskas A et al, "Effect of coffee on the length of postoperative ileus after elective laparoscopic left-sided colectomy: A randomized, prospective single-center study." Diseases of the Colon and Rectum, Nov. 2015. DOI: 10.1097/DCR.0000000000000449
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As an RN since the 1970s, I’ve cared for countless patients who’ve undergone abdominal surgery. We used to keep many of them “NPO” (meaning “nothing by mouth”), or sometimes gave them very small amounts of clear liquids, until we heard normal bowel sounds, and they passed flatus (gas).

We subsequently learned that there were safe ways to stimulate the GI tract and help return things to normal by giving patients certain things. Coffee definitely yielded excellent results.

In addition to coffee, virtually any warm/hot liquid drink was really helpful. Also, many surgeons routinely prescribe chewing gum! (With sugar – if the patient’s not diabetic). I’ve not researched this, but perhaps the entire experience of chewing and swallowing, along with the sugar stimulates peristalsis.

Disclaimer: Every post-operative patient must be evaluated by their health care practitioner to determine when it’s appropriate to resume taking anything by mouth.

My last hospital visit was for a hip replacement. Everything went well. The one downside was the hospital coffee. In my experience, hospital coffee motivated me to leave as soon as possible!

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