By Scott Russo, M.D.
For nearly 30 years as a surgeon, I have seen up close the impact of poor nutrition on a patient recovering from a surgery or illness. According to several studies, 20–60% of all patients admitted to the hospital for care are malnourished. Malnutrition may lead to various complications related to depressed immune function and impaired wound healing, two of the main reasons for the readmission back to the hospital after discharge. Malnutrition may also cause issues leading to delayed hospital release, adding to the financial challenges faced by patients and their families. Severe malnutrition can increase the risk of patient death. With that in mind, this paper reflects my perspective on the benefits of surgical supplements, based on experience and my interpretation of the research.
The stress that follows surgery or illness can negatively affect the patient’s immune system; the malnourished patient may require the breakdown of muscle tissue to provide energy to sustain body functions. Without the necessary amino acids and other essential nutrients, wound healing can be delayed. Hence, it’s essential to recognize that the foundation of any nutritional program for surgical patients is one that promotes the intake of a well-balanced diet consisting of healthy foods, beginning with raw and minimally processed vegetables and fruit. However, the standard American diet (SAD) exposes us to foods that are less nutrient-dense and highly processed, which can be dangerous to our health in many ways.
Supplementation can help fill the gaps and solve problems associated with the standard American diet by providing nutrition support to the patients. The nutrition supplements include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, phytonutrients, and minerals.
These Supplements Can Make a Difference
Amino acids are the nutritional building blocks of proteins. Following recovery from illness or surgery, the use of supplements such as protein and amino acids is essential because it helps to reduce the loss of critical proteins that are needed for recovery. In addition, our bodies are bombarded by infectious agents, toxins, and processed foods, which can trigger our immune system. That can create a hostile environment to recovery when combined with the stress of illness and surgical trauma.
Nutritional supplements such as prebiotics and probiotics, herbal compounds, and vitamins have the potential of building strong immunity in our body. A healthy immune system helps our body resist the effects of illness, disease, and trauma.
Vitamins are essential for the efficient and effective functioning of our body’s systems. For instance, vitamin D is important because it’s one of the main building blocks of bones. The problem is that there’s a high percentage of vitamin D deficiency among Americans; vitamin D deficiency is associated with osteoporosis, a condition associated with bone loss along with bone pain and muscle weakness. Supplementation of calcium with vitamin D helps the body to absorb enough calcium to reduce the likelihood of osteoporosis.
Also, it’s essential to get magnesium supplements after surgery because the shock of trauma one undergoes depletes the body’s magnesium. Zinc supplements are essential
for immunity and wound healing after surgery. Vitamin C and selenium supplements are good for recovery from surgery because they act as an essential co-factor for collagen synthesis for proper wound healing. Bromelain supplements have anti-inflammatory effects which help in reducing the postoperative swelling and helping the wound to heal properly after surgery.
Plan for a Better, Quicker Recovery
The goal of using supplements before and after surgery is to provide the nutrients necessary for maintaining the body’s nutrient levels throughout the process. That helps the patient physically and may reduce the stress and additional cost of extended hospital stays or readmission from post- surgical issues. Along with getting a bit more exercise and eating less fat and more fruit and vegetables, patients can prepare themselves to recover faster and get back sooner to what they love doing.