Nutrition plays a crucial role in preventing scarring from surgery. Some foods carry nutrients that can improve wound healing and strengthen your tissue, while other foods can impede your skin’s repair process and prolong your recovery. If you’re following a fad diet or you live on junk food, it’s time to get serious about your nutrition as these diets contain many foods to avoid during wound healing.
Wound healing is a complex process that can be divided into three main phases; inflammatory, proliferative, and maturation. To understand your body’s nutritional needs it helps to have a basic understanding of these phases.
As your body begins the healing process it requires extra nutrients to divert to the wound site. Swelling occurs to control bleeding, prevent infection and allow repair cells to move to the site. Stress hormones are created, and your metabolism speeds up during this process known as the catabolic phase and the body must use its energy and protein reserves.
So, your wound incurred during surgery increases your body’s need for energy, protein, vitamins and minerals from the get-go.
During this stage, new connective tissue and microscopic blood vessels known as granulation tissue forms on the surface of the wound. For it to be healthy and strong, the blood vessels require an adequate supply of nutrients and oxygen. Myofibroblasts cause contraction of cells to pull the wound together.
The last phase is the remodelling stage, this is when collagen is remodelled and the wound closes fully. Cells used in the initial stages of repair are removed. The collagen laid down during the proliferative phase is replaced by collagen that is organised in a denser, tidier way which smooths and strengthens the wound and reduces scar thickness. This remodelling phase starts about 3 weeks after the surgery and can last for over a year.
Foods to avoid during wound healing post surgery
If your nutrition is inadequate, the phases in wound healing are impaired. The time it takes for the wound to heal increases and the scar formation will be compromised. Here are the key foods to avoid during wound healing following your surgery:
Sugar and skin health aren’t a great combination. Sugar can degrade the quality of your collagen and elastin.
Collagen and elastin make up a fibrous network that provides your skin with structural stiffness and elasticity and plays a key role in all the phases of wound healing. Scar tissue shows a decreased failure resistance, which suggests there is less collagen in the tissue. By consuming sugar you’re risking the degradation of collagen and elastin, which means that your scar may form thicker and be more visible.
Watch out for hidden sugars in processed foods and if you’re tempted to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners to lose weight, read this article first.
2. Nitrate-Rich Foods
The health of blood vessels reaching the site of the wound is vital in the healing process as these are the main suppliers of nutrients and oxygen required for repair. Excess nitrates in your diet in certain forms can lead to the damage of these vessels, impairing the wound healing process.
Nitrates have health benefits when consumed from vegetables but those found in foods such as processed meats like bacon, salami and hot dogs as preservatives are bad for your health. Eating too many of these nitrate-rich foods can cause atherosclerosis, where fatty plaque forms within your blood vessels. This obstructs the blood flow reducing your healing time and compromising the formation of your scars. This can also lead to stroke, heart attack and bleeding disorders.
Alcohol directly affects the absorption of nutrients required to repair your skin following a surgical wound. It does this by inhibiting the breakdown of nutrients and damaging the cells that line the stomach and intestines, so these nutrients cannot be transported in the blood to the site of your wound.
Alcohol impairs the absorption of proteins which are converted into amino acids which from collagen. Collagen is vital in each phase of wound healing, deficiency can affect the strength of your wound and the structure of your scar.
Vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins are vital for skin healing and cell maintenance. Alcohol also inhibits the absorption of these essential vitamins.
Alcohol also decreases the body’s ability to absorb minerals, in particular, zinc which is vital in the synthesis and accumulation of collagen, especially in the wound’s early granulation tissue. Zinc deficiency can delay wound healing post surgery.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but caffeine makes it on the list of key foods to avoid during wound healing. While caffeine is known for its strong antioxidant properties, it has the potential to hinder your skin’s natural healing process. Excessive caffeine intake can not only affect nutrient absorption, but it can also compromise your skin’s integrity by dehydrating your body. Dehydration causes the skin to reduce elasticity and become fragile and susceptible to breaking down.
It also can limit the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the wound by reducing the blood volume due to dehydration. This causes tissue perfusion where the tissues at the capillary level are undernourished. Cellular proliferation, adhesion and migration are restricted, this increases wound healing time.
Foods You Should Eat to Improve Wound Healing and Scar Formation
Scars can be a great source of emotional anguish. While scar formation will differ from patient to patient, ensuring you nourish your body with all the right nutrients will improve your wound healing and help promote overall health too.
For your scars to heal well after surgery, they’ll require these nutrients:
You’ll want to increase your protein immediately after surgery to aid the healing process. Protein is broken down into amino acids, two of which are very important for your wound repair: L-Arginine and Glutamine. These amino acids will help form collagen, vital for the strength of your skin.
Sources of glutamine; protein-rich foods like beef, chicken, fish, eggs, vegetables like beans, beetroot, cabbage, spinach, kale, carrots, parsley, Brussel sprouts, celery, papaya and fermented foods like miso.
Sources of L-Arginine; soybeans, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, chicken.
· B vitamins
B vitamins are essential to speed up the healing of your wound by increasing protein synthesis and enabling more repair cells to the site. B1 and B5 are particularly important for promoting skin health by strengthening scar tissue and increasing the number of fibroblasts that help secrete collagen. You can find B-vitamins in foods such as eggs, poultry, fish, green vegetables and legumes, almonds, avocado, lentils, sunflower seeds, cantaloupe, tomatoes, peanuts, sweet potato, mushrooms, whole grains, peas, quinoa, sesame seeds, soybeans, and watermelon.
· Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the most important antioxidants for wound healing as it increases the wound strength and aids the production of collagen. It is also vital for the development of new blood vessels that will transport the nutrients to your wound. You’ll find vitamin C in leafy green vegetables and citrus fruits.
· Vitamin A
Vitamin A is another vital antioxidant for the health of your skin post-surgery. This vitamin aids in the inflammatory response and can help prevent infection of the wound. As your wound is healing and the scar is forming, vitamin A is crucial for stimulating the growth of new blood vessels and the production of connective tissue. Dark leafy green vegetables, fish and eggs are all great sources of vitamin A. Supplementation of vitamin A is met with caution as toxicity can occur.
One of the most important minerals you could consume to improve scar formation is zinc. Zinc aids in the synthesis of protein and the development of collagen. Zinc has the potential to reduce your healing time from surgery by up to 43 percent and deficiencies in this trace mineral have been associated with delayed healing and reduced wound strength. Great sources of zinc include meat, fish, poultry and eggs, beans and legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds and oats.
Optimise your nutrition to speed up wound healing
An effective way to speed up your healing processes after surgery is with Intravenous Vitamins, a treatment that gives you a powerful boost of vitamins directly into your bloodstream.
It is important to keep up your nutrition long term as you can see the final phase of repair can last for over a year. If you are unhappy with your scar formation once the full healing process has finished it’s worth noting that scarring can be further minimised with a ProFractional Lasers to stimulate collagen production.
You don’t have to get it 100% perfect all the time and it’s important to be sensible about your nutrition, check out this article on orthorexia.
Optimising your nutrition is the most important measure you can take to minimise scarring post-surgery. Even if you only have tiny liposuction wounds, it’s worth taking your nutrition seriously and ensuring you eat extra amounts of the beneficial foods, and reducing your intake of those foods that will impede wound healing. This will speed up the repair process and leave you with better results.