Nutrition’s Impact on Healing

Most of us assume that we are getting enough nutrients in our modern, American diet to support our body’s most important function—recovering from injury or illness. Unfortunately, for many of us that just isn’t the case. While most of us are getting more than enough calories, our typical diets are woefully inadequate at supplying nutrients like zinc and vitamins C, B12 and E that are essential for optimized healing.

If you have suffered an injury, then you need a nutritious diet to speed the healing process. While you need more energy in the form of calories for the body to repair itself, you also need nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, water, vitamins, and minerals.

Some of these nutrients you may be able to obtain from nutritional supplements, but it is preferable to get them through your diet.  For example, you may get vitamins through supplements, but you may not know how much you are getting because the health supplements industry isn’t that strictly regulated.

The Most Essential Nutrients for Healing

You should strive to always eat a well-balanced and healthy diet, but if you are recovering from an injury, then there are some things you should emphasize.

  • Protein—because proteins are the basic building blocks of cells including muscles, bones, and skin, you need to consume more during the recovery process. You should eat 3 or 4 servings a day of high protein foods like chicken, fish, beans, nuts, eggs, or cheese. Each serving should include 3 or 4 ounces of protein.
  • Carbohydrates—foods like bread, rice, and potatoes provide energy necessary to power the healing process. You should not eat refined sugar because it can increase bacterial growth.
  • Water—something that many people forget is that hydration is essential for proper healing. It is recommended that you drink half the number of pounds that you weigh in ounces of water daily; for example, if you weigh 200 pounds, drink 100 ounces of water, milk, coffee, tea or soup a day.
  • Vitamin A—vitamin A is very important in the growth of skin as well as in the initial inflammatory response to an injury. In a normal person, they should be getting 2,000-3,000 IU a day, but a person who is healing may require up to 25,000 IU a day. Vitamin A is most abundant in animal foods like eggs and cheese or brightly colored vegetables like apricots, leafy greens, or cantaloupe.
  • Vitamin C—vitamin C is essential for collagen production which is a key protein in cells and cellular architecture. Vitamin C is also important               as an antioxidant. A normal daily dose of vitamin C is about 60 mg, but if you are recovering from an injury, you may need up to 500 mg per day. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits and green vegetables.
  • Vitamin E—this vitamin is also an antioxidant that plays a key role in boosting the immune system. However, taking too much vitamin E can inhibit collagen production and promote bleeding. So, it is recommended that you only take as much vitamin E as is found in a daily multivitamin.
  • Zinc—zinc is a very important mineral in many cellular metabolic processes including the function of more than 100 enzymes. Because the human body has no storage system for zinc, it is important to intake at least 8 mg per day. The most common sources of zinc include red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, and whole grains.
  • Calcium—if you are healing a broken bone, then you should monitor how much calcium you are consuming. This mineral is also very important in the initial immune response to an injury. It is recommended that you get 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium per day in a normal diet, but this should go up to 1,500 mg per day if you are recovering from a bone injury.

The Amount of Food Needed for Healing

There is one other consideration in wound healing, and that is your caloric intake. Calories, generally speaking, are the amount of energy your body will need to maintain itself as well as repair any damage from injury, illness or surgery.

If you are laid up in bed, it is easy to think that you will pack on pounds if you eat a lot. In fact, you should be consuming more calories so that the healing process can be expedited. The general rule of thumb is that if you are healing, you should be consuming 30 to 35 calories per kilogram of body weight per day. So, a 130 pound patient should be eating 1,700 to 2,100 calories per day.

It can be difficult to eat this much, especially if it is only a day or two after a serious injury or surgery. You can substitute a high protein drink like Ensure or Carnation Instant Breakfast for a meal if you don’t have much of an appetite.

Getting Enough Sleep

One final issue is getting enough rest during your recovery. Sleep is integral to healing so you should be getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Try to make sure that your sleep is uninterrupted as the most beneficial healing occurs in the 3rd or 4th stages of sleep.

New studies show that getting enough restful sleep is even more important than a nutritious diet. One study examined how sleep deprivation affected wound healing. Among three groups—one as a control, one was sleep deprived, and one that was sleep deprived but nutritionally boosted—the group that got the most sleep took the least time to heal.

Surprisingly, adding more nutrients to the diet of one sleep deprived group did not speed up healing, although it did improve their immune system. This study suggests that sleep should be the highest priority while you are recovering. While you shouldn’t neglect a healthy diet, it is just much more important that you get enough sleep to expedite the healing process. The authors of the study suggest that nutrition does play an essential role in healing, but their study was too small to identify its contributions.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA, and you should not post any of your private health information.