Five Steps to Speed Recovery From Surgery

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Filed Under: General Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Five Steps to Speed Recovery From Surgery

How to lessen the trauma of even minor surgery

Undergoing a surgical operation, even minor surgery, can be a traumatic experience for your body. Of course, you’ll want to make your recovery as quickly as possible. Incorporating the following five recommendations will help both shorten your hospital stay and get back on your feet sooner.

1. Bank Your Blood

What you may not realize is that some of the most important steps you can take to recovery from surgery happen before you even reach the hospital doors. One of these is being sure to bank your own blood if you’re planning on undergoing surgery that may require transfusions. I’ve been recommending this process (called autologous transfusion) as a pre-surgery precaution for nearly 25 years, and it still is good advice.

Thankfully, due to modern donor blood test screening protocols established after the emergence of HIV in the 80s, now you’re more likely to be transfused with wrong blood type than you are to contract HIV/AIDS or hepatitis from donor blood. However, donor blood still contains other various pathogens, because at any given time the body is fighting some form of infection. For some people it could be simply from a cut on the finger, gum disease, a cold, a chronic sinus problem, et cetera. But in other people the pathogen might be more virulent.

Research shows that the risk of developing any kind of infection is three times greater in any patient who receives a blood transfusion when compared to a similar patient who doesn’t. And the more blood one receives, the higher the risk of infection.

In many cases, however—hip replacement, bypass procedures, and the like—you have time to donate and bank your own blood prior to the surgery. In a University of Michigan study, individuals who didn’t receive transfusions, and those who banked their own blood before surgery, had the lowest risk of infections and, subsequently, a lower risk of dying during the 100 days after surgery.

Remember that it may take anywhere from four to eight weeks to accumulate enough blood for many surgeries, so plan ahead when possible. When you donate blood they take a unit, and you can donate once every eight weeks. Your body will replace the plasma (the fluid portion) in a couple days, but it takes the two months for your body to replenish the blood cells contained in a pint. If you bank your own blood before surgery, be sure to allow enough time between your last blood draw and the date of your surgery.

2. Supplement Program

In addition to your normal multivitamin-mineral supplement regimen, you also need to make sure you are taking certain vitamins at least a couple of weeks before and two to three months after surgery. Research studies have shown that taking as little as 250 mg a day of vitamin C after surgery cut the healing time in half.

I recommend you start taking the following supplements at least two weeks prior to the surgery: additional vitamin C (1,000 mg to 2,500 mg), bioflavanoids (1000 mg), zinc (50 mg), vitamin E in the form of wheat germ oil capsules (50 mg), and a good B-complex (that contains at least 50 mg of pantothenic acid). Also remember that zinc can become toxic if not taken with vitamin A as well as vitamin C, so it would be best to include from 20,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin A daily.

Wheat germ oil can also help in the healing of any scars left immediately after surgery when applied directly to the scar area. (Simply puncture the wheat germ oil capsule and squeeze onto the area.)

3. Probiotics and Fiber

If you haven’t already, you should add a probiotic and fiber to your diet during the weeks preceding and months following your surgery. According to one study, patients who ate fiber and probiotics after undergoing a major abdominal surgery or liver transplant had substantially fewer incidences of post-surgical infection than patients given conventional nutrition or placebo. For example, of the 95 patients in the study who received liver transplants, 48 percent of those on conventional nutrition and 34 percent of those receiving the placebo developed infections. Only 13 percent of those receiving the probiotic and additional fiber developed infections.

Based on the results above, I personally think it should be considered malpractice for surgeons not to place all of their patients on probiotics and additional fiber. The difference in infection rates is phenomenal! This simple therapy can reduce suffering, lower death rates, decrease antibiotic use, and shorten the duration of hospital stays, dramatically reducing medical expenditures in this country.

Most people are aware of the immune system-boosting benefits of probiotics or “good bacteria.” But not as many people realize that for probiotics and beneficial bacteria to work and proliferate, they need their own “food,” also known as “prebiotics.” Fiber serves this purpose. Indigestible fiber not only helps bowel motility, but it also serves as base media for the necessary probiotic fermentation process that happens in the bowels. The vitamins and nutrients produced by this process feed the good gut bacteria and prevent infections, which would otherwise start in the area. Increasing the fiber in your diet with raw and cooked fruits and vegetables will make any probiotic work more effectively.

4. Bromelain

A couple of days before and after surgery it would be wise to include at least 1,000 mg twice daily of bromelain (the pineapple extract). It should be taken between meals with a full glass of water. Bromelain is a powerful proteolytic enzyme (meaning it breaks down proteins). In addition to its uses as a digestive aid, its excellent anti-inflammatory effects reduce swelling and bruising, speeding healing and recovery time. Even pineapple in its raw form has show to be effective when applied topically to wounds. Bromelain tablets can be purchased at most health food stores.

5. Sunshine

After your surgery, try to get a bed next to a window that lets in the most sunlight.

Although the public has practically been brainwashed into believing we would be healthier without sunlight exposure, nothing could be further from the truth. Moderate exposure to sunlight is essential to optimal health, and research shows that exposure to sunlight after surgery can help make the recovery process less painful.

In the study, researchers observed the effects of sunlight exposure on the amount of pain medication needed by 89 patients who had recently undergone spinal surgery. Medication use was compared to intensity of sunlight in each of the patients’ rooms. Patients staying on the bright side of the hospital unit were exposed to 46 percent higher intensity sunlight. These patients experienced less perceived stress and less pain, and took 22 percent less pain medication per hour than those on the dim side of the hospital. As a result, their cost of pain medication was 21 percent lower.

I see no reason why one wouldn’t experience similar results while recuperating from an illness in a home setting. During your convalescence at home, try to get 15–20 minutes of sun a day either by sitting outside or at least by a sunny window.

Even though surgery and the subsequent healing process are often frightening and painful, following these five steps will go a long way toward helping you make a quick and full recovery.

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