Surgery and Injury Recovery: Nutrition for a Strong Recovery
There are many people who look at healthcare as a commodity in today’s society. Something that is backed behind heaps of science, perfected to the point of a known and controllable outcome, and 100% guaranteed for one person as it would another. Whether this stems from our need for immediate gratification or out of our desire and hopes that we are always in good hands, I cannot be sure. But the fact is that medicine, surgery, and healthcare, in general, are still very much a trial and error system that depends on many unique factors.
So let’s break the myth once and for all. Healthcare is not an iPhone, it is not a commodity and outcomes are never 100% guaranteed. It is a service provided by highly trained professionals doing their best with the information they have to create a beneficial outcome. Not all procedures will go as planned and not all patients can expect to escape without complications.
To highlight my point, the below information was compiled from the JAMA Surgery Published Research and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services1 (CMS) organization.
As you can see, the numbers - contrary to popular belief - are much more in favor of an avoidable circumstance interfering with your road to recovery. So what can be done?
There are many general things a hospital can do to improve outcomes and lower costs. Better hospital food, contamination, and quarantine protocol, even sanitizing lab coats and clothing. Many of these ideas and issues are discussed within the industry and even in upcoming legislation such as the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (“MACRA”) which seeks to improve hospital and private practice results by simplifying and altering incentive structures.
But there are also many things potential patients can do to help themselves and improve their own outcomes. So let’s talk about what patients can do to prepare for surgery and improve recovery.
The most important area to focus on for optimal recovery is fueling your body with the pre-surgery and post-surgery nutrition needed for the healing process.
This may sound simple, but studies from the CDC and NHANES show that nearly “80% of the population are deficient while nearly 10% are malnourished” in key nutrients. Further, the USDA had stated that “nearly 50% of Americans are deficient in Vitamins A, C, and Magnesium” which are critical for wound healing. Imagine how many of us are showing up on surgery day deficient in critical vitamins, especially since it is an age-old practice (albeit a reversing practice) to tell patients to refrain from ingesting any nutrients prior to surgery. (Note: the primary reason for this is to prevent a surgery patient from vomiting stomach contents and aspirating while under anesthesia, which can be fatal).
So what ingredients and nutrients should you focus on?
During surgery, a lot happens inside your body. The tissue is torn, inflammation is rampant, free-radicals are released everywhere - it’s a bit of a war zone. So first, you are going to want to boost food intake high in anti-oxidants such as leeks, onions, garlic for allium sulfur compounds; Flavonoids found in teas and citrus fruits (see our “Surgery Prep and Recovery Nutrition: Grapefruit need to knows” post before consumption), Lycopene found in tomatoes, Selenium from seafood and red meats, and of course Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is critical for collagen growth and is one of the most important nutrients to be stocked up on prior to surgery. In addition, it is highly recommended that you begin consuming healthy and live probiotics prior to and immediately after surgery. This is incredibly important as it can lead to the reduction of infections and complications such as C. diff.. Interesting fact, in the UK almost every patient is provided probiotics for surgical interventions and the results have been promising.
It can be quite daunting trying to get your diet in nutritional alignment for healing and is particularly difficult during surgeries because the injury itself naturally increases the number of nutrients required to heal properly. Even a healthy diet and person at baseline can rapidly become deficient during times of injury, stress, and surgical intervention.
When diet is lacking, supplementation (i.e vitamins, amino acids, anti-oxidants, metals, probiotics, etc.) can be used to fill in the gaps. If you are in a hurry or the surgery is right around the corner; check out the HealFast Surgery and Injury Recovery Program, it is anesthesiologist and physician formulated to be safe during the operative period and also has everything you need all in one formula, including probiotics!
Safety is a big factor when using supplements during surgery as some can be dangerous during the operative period. Nutrients like Vitamin E, Arnica, and even Vitamin D and Calcium can cause some complications. Formulas that contain these must be taken after the surgery period if they are to be considered “safe for surgery”, especially vitamin E which can cause bleeding and blood thinning.
After nutrition, come rest and hydration.
I probably don’t need to tell you that surgery takes an immense toll on the body and that you should probably try to ensure at least 8+ hours of sleep each night (in general) but especially after surgery.
Depending on your surgery, sleep may or may not come easily. Speak with your doctor about what positions you must keep and how best to maintain them to aid blood flow and optimal healing2. In addition, some anesthesia will interrupt your normal schedule and can make it harder to find your routine and the lack of nutrients (and fasting) can throw off electrolytes and other nutritional balance further complicating the situation3. If possible avoid daytime napping and try to regain your schedule as quickly as possible to ensure a healthy REM cycle during nightly sleep.
Lastly, exercise and consistent recovery fitness
I wanted to cover this section last because while it is important for long term recovery, it is highly personalized for the patient. Speak with your doctor or physical therapist for ongoing instructions to maximize the recovery of the operated area and to help achieve your routine faster.
The hardest part (depending on the exercises and surgery performed) here is making the mental change to perform the exercises correctly and on a consistent basis. Many patients are diligent for a few days and weeks at best, and then start to fall into a rut. Make sure to plan the physical therapy sessions is needed to at least ensure you have some goal posts to work towards to keep you focused.
The key steps to a fast recovery include nutrition, sleep, hydration, and exercise. We at HealFast want to spread the importance of nutrition in an optimized surgery or injury recovery. There are roughly 20 ingredients that should be topped upon prior to surgery, and other ingredients that should be avoided to reduce complications (such as Vitamin E).
Many patients neglect nutrition and show up to the hospital in a state of deficiency. Prior to their operation, which can be exacerbated by common surgical fasting practices. While there are many things hospitals could work on to improve recovery rates, ultimately the process rests with the patient to seek the optimal path.
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General Disclaimer: All information here is for educational purposes only and is not meant to cure, heal, diagnose nor treat. This information must not be used as a replacement for medical advice, nor can the writer take any responsibility for anyone using the information instead of consulting a healthcare professional. All serious disease needs a physician.