Health: Low Tech Medicine: Speed bumps, chewing gum & chicken soup |

Health: Low Tech Medicine: Speed bumps, chewing gum & chicken soup

Phil Mohler, M.D.
Free Press Health Columnist

Americans are enthralled with the high-technology aspects of modern medicine, but often forget that lots of medicine is practiced “by the seat of docs’ pants or skirts.” Low tech medicine offers lots of advantages: low cost, everyday, available tools and often few, if any, side effects. Consider these low tech interventions.

A British study queried 101 patients who were referred to a surgeon for suspected appendicitis regarding the presence or absence of pain when traveling over a speed bump on the trip to the surgeon. Of the 64 patients who remembered a speed bump, 34 were documented with appendicitis and 33 of the 34 patients were speed-bump positive (they experienced pain with a bump). So if you can handle a speed bump, pain free, on the way to the ER, you probably do not have appendicitis. Speed bumps were better at predicting appendicitis than the doctors’ abdominal exam.

Take home: One less CT scanner (the test of choice for appendicitis these days) will buy a lot of speed bumps and no radiation.

One of the significant concerns after abdominal operations with general anesthesia is that the “bowel is put to sleep” and there will be a delay in eating and other activities. Researchers from Austria studied 179 women who underwent an abdominal operation with a general anesthetic. Half of the women were started on a routine of chewing gum for 15 minutes every two hours until they passed gas. The other half of the group received routine care. The gum chewers passed gas, on average two hours sooner (six hours vs. eight hours) than did the non-chewers. In addition, the gum chewing group used less pain medicine and had fewer complaints of dry mouth.

My Take: It is not clear why chewing gum works, but multiple other studies have shown similar results. For all of us conflict of interest fanatics, there is evidence that the Wrigley folks esCHEWed paying for the study.

In the 4th century BC, Hippocrates recommended boiled chicken “in the case of purulent catarrh also from rotten cold.” When colds strike, chicken soup is warm, salty and creates feelings of Mom and home. It works for me! Sound like soft science? It is, but in 1978 researchers at Miami’s Mount Sinai Medical Center studied the cold-plagued noses of 15 soup-eaters and found that sips of hot chicken noodle soup increased the velocity of nasal mucous (snot); in effect flushing out the nose faster than either hot or cold water. The authors proposed that this was due to the chicken soup’s aroma.

My Take: Small study? Yes, but I promise you that chicken noodle soup ($1.29/can or $0.52 a dose) will work better for your cold than Airborne (pricey vitamins make for very expensive urine at $0.65 per dose).

GJ Free Press health columnist Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 38 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for both Primary Care Partners and Rocky Mountain Health Plans. Email him at

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