Illness and injury take a nutritional toll on the body. People who are well nourished are likely to recover from illness, injury, and surgery better and more quickly than those who are poorly nourished. Medical research has shown time and again: people who are not well nourished take longer to recover, are more likely to have complications, and are more likely to be re-hospitalized.
Often, if a person is malnourished or has experienced unintentional weight loss prior to surgery, surgery will be postponed until the person is adequately replete. This typically involves strategies to increase a person’s weight (both protein/muscle, and fat stores) by increasing calories and protein. Because eating is often delayed after surgery, being well-nourished is one of the best defenses ways to start the healing process/journey right.
Consuming a nutrient-dense diet based on minimally-processed whole foods with adequate amounts of protein along with a good multivitamin/mineral supplement will go a long way to ensure a person is well nourished and be able to respond to the physical stress and trauma associated with surgery.
However, nutrition also plays a very important role in immunity and a strong immune system will reduce the risk for post-surgical infection risk. Diet, nutrition and supplements also reduces excessive inflammation which helps to speed the healing process.
Nutritional Needs In Speeding Recovery Post Surgery
Protein is especially important for healing. The body uses the amino acids in protein to build and repair body cells and tissues. Collagen is a structural protein and is produced and used to repair wounds and/or in tissue repair. As well, protein is required to ensure an optimal production of immune cells and to help preserve muscle tissue.
Meat, fish, poultry
Milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs
Nuts & seeds
Pulses: chickpeas, lentils, dried peas & beans
Protein powders: whey, hemp, fermented soy
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune stimulator. It is also involved in wound and tissue repair via its role as a co-factor in collagen production. Protein provides the building blocks and vitamin C helps to ‘cement’ the protein together as collagen. Wounds and wound healing are more metabolically active and studies have shown that insufficient vitamin C intake results in scar tissue breakdown via localized scurvy.
While there has been a lot of confusing information on vitamin C and its ability to increase wound repair and to prevent stress-related illnesses including colds, in the end it is vital to well-being. It’s all about dose and frequency.
Suffice it to say that vitamin C is quickly absorbed by the body but is also excreted somewhat quickly as well. Unlike other nutrients which could be taken once a day, to get the best of vitamin C, it needs to be taken several times a day. Once taken, vitamin C peaks between 2-3 hrs after ingestion and then levels taper off over the next 3-4 hrs so that blood levels return to baseline (levels prior to taking the supplement/food source) around 5-6 hrs later. The key is to eat vitamin C rich foods [citrus, sweet peppers, tomatoes, kiwi, melon, papaya, strawberries] and/or supplements [500 mg is a safe dose] every 4 hours or so [or 2500 mg in 5 divided doses]. Additionally, you can take a highly-bioavailable supplement called Lypo-Spheric vitamin C.
Like vitamin C, vitamin E remains to be a very powerful antioxidant and immune stimulator helping to ensure optimal wound healing. Vitamin E rich foods like nuts, seeds, and wheat germ [and wheat germ oil] should be part of a healthy diet. If choosing supplements, be sure that it contains ‘mixed’ tocopherols and ideally it should contain tocotrienols too. Vitamin E is a family of 8 different forms and not just alpha tocopherol. For me, there’s only one vitamin E supplement to consider, that’s Total E by Advanced Orthomolecular Research.
It promotes wound healing by increasing fibroblast differentiation [like scaffolding of scar tissue that collagen is laid down on], as well helps to promote collagen production. Vitamin A also helps to prevent infection by maximizing the immune system. There is a difference between vitamin A [retinol and retinal] and beta carotene. Beta carotene can stand in to some degree as some of it [not much sadly] is converted to vitamin A by the body. Beta carotene does a great job at reducing inflammation though.
Eggs, cheese, butter and milk
Cod liver oil
Beta-carotene food sources
Carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin
Mango, cantaloupe, apricots, peaches, nectarines
Dark green vegetables
Zinc is the mineral extraordinaire. Zinc helps to improve wound healing by ensuring healthy cell division. As the tissues repair themselves, the newer healthier cells reproduce to take over for the damaged ones. Part of this process involves the cells to replicate their own DNA, a normal part of the process. Zinc is needed in order for this to happen. And not surprisingly, zinc is absolutely essential for a strong immune system.
Inadequate zinc stores due to poor dietary zinc intake are very common. Not only are people with low zinc stores more likely to suffer from colds, they are more susceptible to potential infections post surgery from a less than optimized immune response.
Beef, lamb, pork, chicken, oysters and clams