The role of vitamin C in wound healing and surgery recovery has been reviewed in the medical literature since 1937, when two Harvard Medical School surgeons published an article in a medical journal about vitamin C deficiency and wound healing.
These physicians noted that spontaneous breakdown of surgical wounds in the absence of infection occurs with relative frequency in many patients, and they connected this to the patients having low levels of vitamin C. Their recommendation was administration of vitamin C based on their observations that wound healing becomes faulty when vitamin C levels are inadequate (Dr. Rath Research Institute, July 28, 2008).
Another early study from 1941 recommended saturating the body with large doses of vitamin C daily (1,000 mg) for three days before surgery, and then keeping these high levels maintained with supplemental doses during the healing period. This study concluded that large doses of vitamin C are of utmost importance to wound healing (Hunt, Alan H., January 1941).
Vitamin C is Necessary for Wound Healing
In mammals, vitamin C is necessary for a normal response to physiological stressors, with this need increasing during times of injury. In humans, certain populations are more likely to be deficient in vitamin C, to include the elderly, alcoholics, drug abusers and people who are malnourished. Vitamin C deficiency can also occur in those with restricted eating patterns, prolonged hospitalization, severe illnesses and poor dietary intake; resulting in severe clinical consequences if there is injury or trauma.
Events that cause wounding, including trauma or surgery are physiological stressors that have been associated with a decrease in blood plasma vitamin C levels. If a trauma or surgery patient has marginal vitamin C levels to begin with, this could lead to vitamin C deficiency symptoms. Humans lack the ability to store vitamin C, so it is important to continually replenish this vitamin through dietary means or by supplementation. Vitamin C replenishment becomes very critical during wound healing (MacKay, Douglas, ND, and Miller, Alan L., ND, 2003).
Vitamin C’s Role in the Healing Process
Vitamin C is essential to the formation of new connective tissue in a healing wound. The important component in healing is collagen, which is comprised of the amino acids lysine, proline, and glycine. Collagen forms the structure of the connective tissue that becomes the framework around which the new tissue is rebuilt. The enzymes critical to forming collagen cannot function without their co-factor, which is vitamin C.
Since the healing process causes an increase in the body’s metabolic requirements, in the period immediately following injury or surgery, vitamin C may fall to drastically low levels. The levels may become so low that high doses may be required to bring vitamin C back to normal. Without this extra vitamin C, the formation of new replacement connective tissue between cells is hindered and a wound may heal improperly. (Dr. Rath Research Institute, July 28, 2008).
Besides stimulating the formation of collagen in a healing would, vitamin C also acts as a powerful antioxidant and immune system modulator. These combined effects make vitamin C an important supplement for wound repair. Though it is appropriate to prescribe vitamin C for patients deficient in this vitamin, some practitioners feel it is important to give large doses to non-deficient individuals for optimal wound healing.
One study recommended supplementing 1-2 grams (1,000-2,000 mg) daily from wound onset until the healing is complete. The metabolic requirement of vitamin C for collagen synthesis during wound healing makes this important even for those who are not deficient in vitamin C (MacKay, Douglas, ND, and Miller, Alan L., ND, 2003).
Popular Vitamin C Supplements
So called vitamin C ester supplements are very popular. Ester-C is a non-acidic type of vitamin C because it contains calcium ascorbate. This makes the pills not only gentler on the stomach but also more effective. Studies show that deacidified vitamin C is better absorbed and retained. Vitamin C (ester-C) is also present in certain surgery healing multinutrient complex kits. Read more about other supplements that enhance surgical healing.
Vitamin C is important in the wound repair process, facilitating the building of collagen in the wound, which forms the framework for the building of new tissue. Vitamin C also acts as a powerful antioxidant and immune system modulator. These combined effects make vitamin C essential for the wound repair process. Vitamin C supplementation should be considered even for those who are not deficient to facilitate wound repair after surgery or trauma.
Vitamin C is also known to be one of the few actually effective agents to help improve scar appearance. Read more about vitamin C for scars.
Hunt, Alan H. (January 1941). The Role of Vitamin C in Wound Healing. British Journal of Surgery, 28 (111), 436-461. Source: Wiley Online Library
MacKay, Douglas, ND, and Miller, Alan L., ND. (2003). Nutritional Support for Wound Healing. Alternative Medicine Review, 8 (4), 359-397. Source: Pilonidal.org.
Dr. Rath Research Institute. (July 28, 2008). Healing the wounds or having surgery?… Don’t miss the Vitamin C. Source: drrathvitamins.com.