Surgery recovery can be enhanced by reducing inflammation in wounds as well as in your body. This post is about how to reduce both wound inflammation as well as inflammation in your body.
In other words, how to optimally treat your incision wound and what to eat and which supplements to take to optimize healing after surgery.
Inflammation is a natural process in our body to protect itself after trauma (e.g. injury or surgery).
How to treat swelling
Swelling after an injury or surgery occurs to increase blood supply to the affected body part, thus bringing extra nutrients to promote healing.
Other purposes of inflammation are help to fight off infections and to generate pain as a signal that something is wrong with the body.
The inflammatory response related to surgery is also called surgical inflammation.
Although this set of chemical reactions occurs to stimulate healing, excessive swelling or inflammation interferes with healing. That’s why swelling and inflammation need to be controlled.
The most common remedies are;
- cooling with ice,
- getting sufficient rest,
- (sometimes) using a compression bandage,
- and elevation to reduce swelling.
This set of treatments is often referred to as RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation)
How to treat wound inflammation
Apart from swelling there’s another form of topical inflammation. In case of a surgical incision, wound inflammation occurs. This is also normal since it is the first stage in the wound healing.
Prolonged or excessive wound inflammation is not desirable. If it endures or seems problematic medical honey may be a natural and effective remedy. Studies show that:
the effect of honey on wound healing may in part be related to the stimulation of inflammatory cytokines from monocytic cells. Such cell types are known to play an important role in healing and tissue repair. (source: PubMed)
Medical honey hastens the healing of wounds through its anti-inflammatory effects.
The type of honey that is commonly used for wound care is Medihoney.
Medihoney™ has been one of the first medically certified honeys licensed as a medical product for professional wound care.
Also maintaining a proper diet and taking supplements to reduce overall inflammation in the body (before) after surgery are ways to manage inflammation.
A bit of inflammation is not something to worry about. It is however wise to treat both your wound as well as take care of your body from the inside.
Treating inflammation from the inside out
Inflammation comes from the Latin word “inflammo”, meaning “I set alight, I ignite”. Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response and is measured by C-reactive protein. High levels of CRP in your body are caused by infections and or long-term diseases.
There are three types of inflammation: acute, chronic and systemic.
Ancients civilizations already knew about four characteristics of acute inflammation. These are redness, swelling, heat and pain. These are managed by the aforementioned remedies.
Chronic and systemic inflammation however, can not be treated topically.
Inflammation is very useful. Without inflammation, pathogens like bacteria could easily take over our bodies and kill us. It also has a role in repairing damage.
This type of inflammation works with the immune system to fight strong infections or diseases. It is associated with free-radical damage and oxidative stress, which are common after surgery.
Long term (chronic) inflammation is unhealthy. Taking action to reduce this type of inflammation is (yet again) crucial. Not only if you are undergoing surgery but for everybody.
Chronic inflammation is when your body is no longer able to control the inflammatory response and it starts damaging healthy tissue.
Every food we eat, every medicine we take, and everything we do influences this process. Recent research shows that this process is responsible for many diseases.
Time Magazine called inflammation “The Secret Killer” (2004)
The Plastic Surgery Diet
Cosmetic surgery is about one thing, better looks. Often this is directly linked to weight loss. However this also works the other way round.
The more ideal your weight, the better the results of (plastic) surgery are. This is true for all types of surgery. Being overweight prolongs healing time and increases the risk on complications. That’s why it is generally recommended to achieve weight loss prior to surgery.
NYC cosmetic surgeon Robert Tornambe anticipated to this knowledge by putting together a specific diet for his patients. The goal of this diet; to reach and sustain ideal weight as well as better healing. And how to promote healing? By eating anti-inflammatory foods.
The plastic surgeon and author of ‘The Beauty Quotient Formula‘ said:
I know the diet works because of the results I have seen in my patients, and I follow it also.
How does the anti-inflammation diet work?
The ‘plastic surgery diet’ is focused on reducing inflammation.
The diet is actually not particularly focused on cosmetic surgery because it is pretty similar to a common well-balanced diet everybody could benefit from.
The essence of the diet:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lots of fish or fish oil supplements.
- Avoid eating a high-carb, low-fat diet filled with grains and sugar.
Studies have shown that unhealthy fats increase inflammation, while healthy fats decrease it. The recommended foods decrease inflammation.
Some experts go even further by stating that inflammation plays a role in causing many diseases.
According to Karen Lamphere, MS, CN, conditions like asthma, allergies, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and diabetes can be made worse or better depending on a person’s diet.
So what does a anti-inflammatory diet that speeds surgical healing (and boosts your health in general) consist of?
What to eat? These foods will reduce inflammation (and speed surgical healing):
- Omega-3 fats such as extra-virgin olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, fish oil, walnut and walnut oil, flax and flaxseed oil, and hempseed and hempseed oil.
- Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Especially dark leafy greens and blueberries. But also doctors will also tell you to eat capers, red onions, pineapples and apples to help the swelling go down faster. Broccoli and salmon are also anti-inflammatory.
- Spinach is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory foods. It is very rich in antioxidant nutrients, including beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C, and the trace mineral copper. Spinach, because of these nutrients is a natural immunity booster and is known to reduce inflammation.
- Eggs are very rich in the antioxidant trace mineral selenium, which has demonstrated to reduce post-surgery swelling and promote recovery. Egg yolks also contain the amino acids methionine and cysteine. These amino acids are known to reduce inflammation, reduce pain, and support post-surgery healing.
- Spice up your meals with garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric, rosemary, cloves, nutmeg, and cayenne.
The active substances in pineapples and aforementioned foods are bromelain and quercetin.
- Bromelain is derived from the stem of pineapples. It’s an enzyme that has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show it helps reduce bruising and swelling.
- Quercetin is found in fruits with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Foods with high amounts of quercetin include: apples, capers, citrus fruit, red onion, and leafy green vegetables.
Read here about the role of bromelain and quercetin in post-surgery healing.
What to avoid? These foods cause inflammation:
- Refined carbs such as flours, sugars and other foods that are high on the glycemic index.
Karen Lamphere: “These foods elevate insulin and glucose levels, which raise levels of pro-inflammatory messengers.”
- Omega-6 fats, found in corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut and soybean oils
- Avoid trans fats at all costs. All experts agree that trans fats are truly unhealthy. They are found in pastries, cakes, margarine among other foods.
Which supplements to take to reduce the risk on inflammation
According to WebMD there is scientific evidence for a few vitamins playing a role in inflammation reduction. These vitamins are:
- Vitamin A. This is an antioxidant that is naturally present in whole milk, liver, and some fortified foods. Beta-carotene, present in carrots, is a provitamin found and many colorful vegetables that your body can convert to vitamin A.
Studies show that vitamin A deficiency links to inflammation in the lungs, intestines, and skin. In some people Vitamin A supplements intak reduced inflammation that contributes to conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, acne, and lung disease.
- Vitamin B6 is found in foods like vegetables, beef, turkey, and fish. Vitamin B6 is water-soluble which means it is flushed out of your body so daily intake is recommended.
Studies show that if you don’t get enough vitamin B6 your risk for heart disease may increase. A lack of vitamin B6 is linked to inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, leading to more joint damage.
The same inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis can actually deplete the body’s vitamin B6 stores. That’s why taking vitamin B6 supplements is recommended, even though there’s no convincing evidence it will reduce inflammation too.
- Vitamin C, found in bell peppers, kiwi’s, oranges, and other citrus fruits plays a major role in post-surgery healing. Studies indicate this vitamin has some anti-inflammatory benefits. One large (yellow) bell pepper contains over 500 percent of a daily recommended amount of vitamin C.
- Studies show that curcumin, present in the turmeric spice, is highly anti-inflammatory. It is so potent that it matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs (7). Apart from that it is probably one of the most health boosting herbs known to man. The curcumin content in turmeric is low, about 3%. In order to take curcumin levels equal to those used in clinical studies, and get the health benefits, you should take an extract.
- Vitamin D, known for its bone strengthening properties also protects against inflammation. Vitamin D is found in liver fish, beef, egg yolks, and some fortified foods. The human body makes Vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
- Fish oil because it helps you replete vitamin D quickly.
Studies show that a lack of vitamin D is linked to a number of inflammatory diseases. Taking vitamin D supplements may help reduce inflammation although this hasn’t been proven.
Research demonstrates vitamin C significantly speeds healing and recovery after surgery.
Another food that has anti-inflammatory properties, red wine.
According to TV show host Dr. Oz among other experts, red wine is rich in antioxidants. The dark skin and seeds of the grapes are thought to protect cell membranes and have anti-inflammatory properties. As with all things, moderation is key. Don’t overdo it and remember, magic cures don’t exist.
Image credit: Wikipedia.