Without proper nutrition, the whole process of wound healing can be negatively impacted. Your diet during recovery plays a critical role in how fast your wound heals, how strong the wound tissue becomes, the duration of the recovery period and how well your body fights off infection. A poor diet can turn a normal wound into a chronic wound that never seems to be get better.
The Catabolic Phase
Even a small wound can alter the way your body metabolizes nutrients. As the body attempts to heal itself from a wound, it will create stress hormones and divert extra resources – carbohydrates, fats, proteins, antioxidants and more – to the creation of new tissue. This is referred to as the catabolic phase of healing. Your metabolism essentially speeds up during this process.
If the catabolic phase drags on too long, protein energy malnutrition (PEM) can set in. This begins a negative cycle which slows wound healing and deteriorates your health. Your body sends extra protein to deal with the wound and, as a consequence, other important body systems and organs don’t receive enough protein. This leads to reduced muscle mass and delayed wound healing.
Protein is the most important aspect of your diet when healing from a wound. Energy (calories from carbohydrates and fats), amino acids, antioxidants and minerals (zinc) are also important. Your dietary needs will be calculated on an individual basis, and your doctor or nutritionist may adjust the levels of each nutrient to facilitate healing. The following guidelines are only generalizations, but will give you an idea of what your diet should include.
Protein helps repair the damaged tissue from your wound. You’ll want to take in more protein than usual to help the healing process. This means 2 to 3 servings of protein a day, with each serving containing at least 2 to 3 ounces of meat (1 cup of beans or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter are alternatives). Your doctor will want to monitor your diet closely. If you don’t take in enough calories, the body might convert more of your body’s protein to energy instead of healing.
Fats from dairy products are essential for wound healing. Cell membranes are created with the use of fatty acids, and you’ll need to take in extra sources of these to maintain healing. Cooking oils and meats are also a good source of fats. One cup of milk or yogurt or an ounce of cheese would be good examples of how much you should include in your daily diet during the healing process.
Taking in plenty of carbohydrates is essential, to prevent the body from using other nutrients and protein for energy. Cereals, breads, rice and pasta are good sources of energy, and should be included in your daily diet.
Vitamin C is an important antioxidant for wound healing. It increases the strength of the wound as it heals, and it helps with the creation of collagen in the skin. Vitamin C is also important in the creation of new blood vessels, and it helps with iron absorption. Citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables are great sources of vitamin C. You should be taking in up to 200 mg of vitamin C daily, which is fairly easy with at least one serving of these foods per day.
Vitamin A is another crucial antioxidant. The body needs additional vitamin A to help with wound healing. It can help fight off infection, and aids in controlling the inflammatory response. Vitamin A levels have to be monitored closely, because toxicity can occur if too much is consumed. Red fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish and dark green vegetables are all good sources of vitamin A.
Zinc helps the body synthesize proteins and develop collagen, so it is an important mineral for wound healing. As long as you are taking in sufficient amounts of protein from meats, you should be getting enough zinc in your diet. The level recommended by your doctor will vary from 15 to 50 mg per day.
Take extra care to follow your physician’s dietary advice, especially if it is a prescribed diet. Diabetic patients will have additional considerations when devising a nutritional plan with their doctor. A final note is needed to emphasize the importance of hydration for wound healing. Drink plenty of water and fluids throughout the healing process to help facilitate proper circulation and detoxification.