Surgery, no matter how minor, is a major undertaking for your body. By its very nature, surgery is a traumatic experience for the body. This is true both on a macro level (the immediate effect on the surgical site) and on a micro level (the effects on a cellular level). There are many reasons that your body needs extra nutritional support after surgery. The best way to think about it is that surgery puts the body under extraordinary stress. When the fight or flight response hits, a few things happen:
- your heart rate starts to increase,
- breathing becomes faster, and
- your body gets ready to battle (figuratively!).
Surgery is no different. Your body considers surgery a ‘stressful’ event. At the time of incision, your body goes straight into a state called hypermetabolism. Your nerves send signals telling your body to start breaking down tissues to use as extra fuel. Since this fuel comes in the form of nutrition, it’s extremely important that you get extra nutrition after surgery. Here are a few reasons why.
1- Surgery depletes your body’s resources
Doctors usually ask patients to fast for 6-12 hours before surgery. This is to reduce the risk of aspiration. Although necessary for your safety, the period of fasting deprives your body of the nutrients you will need during surgery. This is the first challenge that your body has to deal with. The surgery usually results in some blood loss and tissue trauma. That’s the second challenge. Immediately after the surgery, your body must put all efforts into the healing process. These three events -presurgery, the surgery and post-surgery- take a huge toll on the body in a short amount of time.
Paradoxically, the body is depleted at a time when it needs all these resources to recovery. It’s not surprising then that the body requires much rest, fluid, and nutritional support to have a speedy and effective recovery.
2- The body needs extra calories during surgery
During and after surgery, the body goes into a hypermetabolic state. Your body starts to break down protein and fat tissue to get all the nutrients it needs. So it’s vital to get even more calories than usual immediately after surgery. This will help do a number of things:
- keep the recovery on track,
- keep post-op complications to a minimum, and
- reduce the chances of malnutrition.
3- Boost wound healing
The body must work overtime to heal the wounds caused by a surgical operation. Depending on the surgery itself, these wounds can be extensive. Getting key nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc will help promote wound-healing1.
- Vitamin C handles making connective tissue and acts as a powerful antioxidant. Since surgical trauma causes an increase in the body’s metabolic rate. Vitamin C levels usually drop during an operation. It’s a good idea to keep up with the oranges and citrus fruits2.
- Vitamins A can help accelerate the healing of skin incisions and granulation tissue formation3.
- Zinc: Several studies show that zinc supplements improve the wound healing response4. This is another key nutrient to think about in your pre-op diet. Unfortunately, the body doesn’t readily store zinc. You can get it through foods like wheat germ, seeds, meat, and dark chocolate or via a supplement.
Nutrition and your diet
After surgery, people often neglect their diet either because
- they’ve lost their appetite,
- they’re still suffering from post-op nausea, or
- the physical act of eating can be painful.
Ideally, there will be a doctor or nutritionist on staff who can assist you with options. Still, you also need to make sure your body gets what it needs. Your body needs extra nutritional support to help with recovery and recuperation. Additional nutrition also helps prevent complications.
Since you may not have an appetite after surgery, you will need to look outside your diet. Your body needs intense nutrition for optimal recovery. This may not be obtainable through your diet, even if you eat a well-balanced diet. You should consider finding a post surgery supplement that specifically addresses your post-op needs.
1) The Portland Clinic. Nutrition guidelines following surgery. The Portland Clinic LLP dietitians. March 2012. http://www.theportlandclinic.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/nutritionalguidelines.10813.pdf.
2) Fukushima, R., & Yamazaki, E. (2010). Vitamin C requirement in surgical patients. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 13(6), 669-676. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20689415.
3) Critical Issues in Surgery. Edited by A.C. Cernaianu, A.J. DelRossi, R.K. Spence. 1995.
4) Growth Factors and Wound Healing: Basic Science and Potential Clinical. Edited by Thomas R. Ziegler, Glenn F. Pierce, David N. Herndon.