DR. LEPISTO: Steps to increase healing from injury or surgery
August 12, 2013
No one likes to get injured. The by-product of many an outdoor lover, it's almost inevitable that it will happen when we get out there. Although I certainly hear and witness many who have been injured mountain biking, there is no shortage of injuries to road bikers, hikers, motorcyclists, skiers, climbers and more.
When it does happen, there are some simple steps to take that will increase the rate that you heal and to minimize scar and adhesion formation. These recommendations will also apply to people who have undergone surgery, especially a major one. Individuals who follow this program typically heal much faster than normal, with less pain and swelling and fewer complications.
One disclaimer before we begin: The following is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Always check with your medical provider about herb-drug interactions before beginning any new treatments.
STEPS FOR A SPEEDY RECOVERY
The simplest and all-important reminder is to drink enough water. It does not surprise me to continue to hear warnings about drinking too much water, which is technically possible but highly unusual. It is much more important to not leave the body without enough of its most abundant element, and is very common that people are chronically dehydrated, especially in a Grand Junction summer. As I discussed in a previous health article, "Water, the prime element," the much-hyped condition of water intoxication, also known as water poisoning or dilutional hyponatremia (literally, "low-sodium"), is actually a condition of electrolyte imbalance when the body sweats out too much sodium without replacing it. While some people such as ultra-endurance athletes running 100+ miles/day need to be very careful about water intake along with calcium, chloride and potassium, the rest of us could probably use more (a lot more?) water to increase our healing.
Start with one-third your body weight in ounces of water per day, adding one 8-ounce glass for each cup of caffeinated beverage or alcohol, both will increase the elimination of water from the body by blocking anti-diuretic (literally, "against urinating") hormones.
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The next best thing you can do is to eat a high-protein breakfast. Your first meal of the day (and all for that matter, especially while your body is healing) should include 20g of protein (one ounce of meat or fish equals 7g protein, two eggs have 15g), shooting for a minimum of 0.8g/kg body weight per day. Sometimes it is nice to have a protein shake made with yogurt, whey or rice protein powder. Beans, nuts, seeds and nut butters are also easy and delicious ways to increase your protein intake. Try a savory breakfast of huevos rancheros and you will get your bases easily covered.
There are two fruits in particular that are of great benefit when recovering from injury or surgery. Pineapples contain the enzyme bromelain that can chomp up injured tissue debris and help promote a healthy inflammatory response, your body's innate method of healing itself. Try it in a blender with ice and water for a cool and creamy treat any time of the day. The other fruit is papaya, which contains papain and has a similar effect as bromelain. Both of these will also promote digestion of your meal. As high-dose supplements, they will further promote digestion when taken with food and scar tissue reduction when taken between meals.
There is a simple but highly beneficial principle in naturopathic medicine known as "remove obstacles to cure." This is easier said than done. Take conventional cigarette smoking as a prime example; not only does it reduce healing time but also continually adds to the body's burden of chemicals which will need to be eliminated at a future time to restore health. In this regard, sometimes an injury will be a blessing in disguise, if it leads you to take the step toward eliminating that obstacle to cure of which you already know. What is that bad habit that you are ready to kick?
In terms of other supplements, there are many options that can be used in a customized recovery plan. Nutrients that promote healing include daily doses of vitamin C, zinc, copper, vitamin A, and B-complex vitamins. Nutrients that reduce scar formation or adhesions include vitamin E d-alpha or mixed tocopherols and flavonoids. The amino acids glutamine and arginine are also essential for wound repair and immune function, and pancreatin (along with bromelain and papain) reduces edema, bruising, pain and healing time and promotes resorption of fibrin and other tissue debris. Vitamin A should only be taken for short periods of time, and only when cross-referenced with existing medications.
Finally, there are therapeutics that can be applied topically to the wound area to promote healing, after at least one month has elapsed: Aloe vera gel or salve, Calendula officinalis succus (Calendula fresh juice) or organic raw honey (with known medicinal activity of 10+ or greater). Wise women in New Zealand have been known to slather cuts and burns with medicinal-quality honey made from the Manuka plant to greatly speed healing. I guess they never have to deal with bears!
Getting injured or having surgery is a bummer, but something that most of us have to deal with now and then. Start with the basics of eating right and, of course, get enough sleep. Creating your own healing plan will ensure that you get back to the physical activities that you love in this beautiful state.
Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit http://www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.
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