Whether you’re planning on having a small, elective procedure or something more comprehensive, recovery after surgery is probably a concern. The good news is that the steps you take now to prepare for your upcoming procedure, can dramatically improve your recovery time.
In my almost 30 years as an anesthesiologist, I’ve helped thousands of patients get through surgery safely. And, as a wellness practitioner and medical director at VitaMedica, I’ve also helped thousands of patients recover more quickly after surgery.
Here are the dietary & lifestyle tips that I share with my patients so that they can recover more quickly after having a surgical procedure:
Schedule Surgery When You’re Healthy
If you are planning elective surgery, try to schedule it during a period of relatively good health. This will give your immune system the best chance toward a speedy recovery. Many patients find scheduling their surgery at the year-end ideal when they can bridge a few days off with paid vacation time.
Get Enough Essential Nutrients
You should supplement your diet before and after surgery with high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, copper and selenium. Each plays a role in wound healing and in building the immune system thereby reducing the chance of infection. Obtaining sufficient nutrients is especially important for recovery after more comprehensive procedures like a tummy tuck, facelift or liposuction.
VitaMedica offers a line of Recovery Products that includes a specialty multi-vitamin called Clinical Support Program. This two-part supplement provides all of the key vitamins and minerals your body needs to recover more rapidly after a surgical procedure.
While not an essential nutrient, taking a probiotic like VitaMedica’s Probiotic-8 supplement can also benefit your recovery after plastic surgery. Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that reside in the digestive tract, help support immune system function and enhance the absorption of vitamins and nutrients.
Increase Your Protein Intake
Two of the most important healing elements are calories and protein. Extra protein is needed to build new tissue and blood vessels, repair injured tissue and step up production of cells that repair the wound. Choose high quality protein sources like fish, poultry, beans & legumes or lean cuts of meat.
Normal protein requirements are about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For example, a 140 pound woman needs about 50 grams of protein a day (140 divided by 2.2 = 63.6 kilograms multiplied by 0.8). However, after surgery, this amount should be increased by 1 ½ times to about 95 grams of protein a day.
If you can’t eat this amount of protein, consider adding a high-quality protein powder in yogurt, smoothies or shakes. One scoop provides 20 grams of protein and just 80 calories. Another great option is to snack on plain, non-fat Greek Yogurt like Chobani. Just one serving provides 18 grams of protein.
Discontinue Taking Certain Supplements
Some nutritional supplements may cause adverse reactions during or after surgery, including prolonged bleeding, interference with anesthesia, cardiovascular disturbances, and interactions with prescription drugs. These supplements including dong quai, echinacea, fish oil caps, garlic, ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, kava kava, ephedra, St.John’s Wort, and vitamin E, should be discontinued two weeks prior to surgery, and two weeks after surgery.
Use Homeopathic Arnica Montana
Homeopathic Arnica Montana has been used for centuries to treat bruising and swelling from soft tissue injury. Arnica, which is offered both topically and orally, is ideal for facial surgical procedures like a facelift, eyelid or nose surgery. This remedy is also perfect for fillers and injectable procedures like Botox, Restylane, Radiesse, Juvederm and Sculptra.
VitaMedica offers oral Arnica Montana in easy-to-dissolve tablets. The 5-day Arnica Blister Pack is ideal for injectable/filler procedures while the Arnica Montana 120 tab is better suited for facial procedures. VitaMedica’s Arnica+K Cream, which combines Arnica Montana with vitamin K, hastens bruising after a cosmetic procedure.
Take a Bromelain Supplement
Bromelain is an enzyme extracted from pineapple. A number of studies have found that the compounds in bromelain are effective in reducing inflammation, swelling and pain that often accompanies a surgical procedure or soft tissue injury.
VitaMedica offers a nutritional supplement that combines Bromelain with Quercetin. Both botanical compounds have natural anti-inflammatory properties and when combined, enhance the effects of each other.
Stay Well-Hydrated by Drinking Water
It is important to drink at least 6-8 glasses of high quality water each day and especially the day prior to surgery, to help cleanse and hydrate the body. Water is especially important prior to surgery, as fluid intake is reduced the day of surgery. To avoid complications during surgery, be sure that you do not drink anything after midnight the night prior to your surgery, unless told otherwise by your surgeon.
Supplement With a Natural Stool Softener
After surgery, many patients find that they are very constipated for several days which can cause discomfort. Dehydration, narcotics and anesthetic agents used during surgery all contribute to the digestive issue. You can prevent this problem by eating a few prunes each day just prior to and after your surgery. You can also take SurgiLax™, a supplement specifically formulated for post-op constipation.
Take a Probiotic with Antibiotics
Antibiotics are routinely prescribed following a surgical procedure to ward off infection. While beneficial, their use can cause all sorts of digestive problems. Taking probiotics with antibiotics is the best way to avoid GI upset. Timing is everything, so be sure to check out our companion article, Antibiotics and Probiotics – What You Need to Know.
VitaMedica’s Probiotic-8 is ideally suited for patients taking antibiotics. The supplement is formulated with 8 different strains of beneficial bacteria that favorably alter intestinal balance and promote healthy digestion.
Do not Take Aspirin or Aspirin-Containing Products
Aspirin is not recommended prior to surgery because it is an anti-coagulant (blood thinner) and can promote bleeding during surgery. Aspirin therapy should be discontinued two weeks prior to surgery.
Do not Drink Alcohol 72 Hours Prior/After Surgery
Alcohol suppresses the immune system and should be avoided around the time of surgery.
Do not Smoke 2 Weeks Prior/After Your Surgery
Smoke inhibits wound healing because less oxygen is supplied to the body’s cells. In addition, smoking increases the risk of complications during surgery. You should be aware that some facial plastic surgeons and plastic surgeons will not perform a facelift on patients who smoke as their wound healing and recovery is inhibited by smoking.
Participate in Relaxation Techniques
Listening to relaxation tapes or soothing music, taking a yoga or meditation class are examples of relaxation techniques that help to reduce stress.
Build a Support Structure
Rely on your family and friends to help you during the stressful time of a surgery. From assisting with household chores to providing emotional support, having them around is a plus.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.