Wounds need a lot of energy to heal well. Since energy can only come from food, it is vital that patients eat as healthily as possible especially before and after surgery. Crucial nutrients for wound healing include protein, zinc and the vitamins A and C.
So what are the best things to eat? Meats, nuts, beans and dairy products are great sources of protein. Carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach and apricots are great sources of vitamin A. Citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables are great sources of Vitamin C. Yogurt, green peas, beef, oysters, black beans and crab are great sources of zinc.
Patients must also stay well hydrated before and after surgery by drinking enough water. Dehydration causes the skin and soft tissues to lose moisture and become dry. Dry wounds do not heal well. A good goal is to drink eight (8 oz) glasses of water a day. Caffeinated products should also be avoided because caffeine can cause dehydration.
The importance of healthy nutrition is really emphasized by the link between obesity (Body Mass Index [BMI] over 30) and complication rates after surgery. Obese patients have much higher rates of infection, wound healing problems (breakdown of wounds), hematomas (blood collections), and seromas (fluid collections) compared to non-obese patients.
Obese patients also have a thicker subcutaneous adipose layer with a poorer blood supply. Blood flow to the healing tissues is therefore less robust and the amount of vital nutrients and oxygen reaching these tissues are far less than in non-obese patients. This poor blood flow compounds the negative effects of poor nutrition. If possible, losing weight before surgery will only decrease the risk of complications.
Smoking can also really impact healing. The nicotine in cigarette smoke causes blood vessels to shrink, so again tissues do not receive enough of the nutrients and oxygen required for healing. At best, this can cause the wound healing process to take much longer. At worst, smoking can cause wounds to breakdown. Unfortunately, many smoking-cessation products will also increase the risk of healing problems because of the nicotine they contain!
Cigarette smoke also contains carbon monoxide. This combines with your blood cells preventing them from carrying oxygen and effectively lowering the level of oxygen in the blood. Since oxygen is vital for healing, it is crucial to quit smoking before and after surgery to decrease the risk of healing complications.
Another good thing to do?... Exercise. Regular aerobic exercise improves healing after surgery and boosts the immune system. Start with walking and progressively build up to more of a sweat once given the "all-clear" by your surgeon.