Essential Nutrition for Recovery after Surgery (Part 2) In this follow up to our essential Nutrition & Surgery focus part one, Director and Principal Dietitian Gillian Killiner, continues in this blog to discuss the key role that vitamins and minerals play in helping your body recover after surgery.
Vitamin A – essential for recovery after surgery
Vitamin A is commonly known as the anti-infective vitamin for surgery. It is central to normal functioning of your immune system. Vitamin A is also needed to maintain the integrity and function of your skin and mucosal cells.
When you enter a hospital or clinic for surgery, many things will stress you. You will also be exposed to bacteria and viruses that your system is not used to. Infection will quickly use up your vitamin A stores.
In this way, infection starts a vicious cycle, because not enough vitamin A is related to increased severity and likelihood of death from infectious disease.
It is important to go into surgery with a good supply of vitamin A in your tissues. You will need to continue consuming enough vitamin A to keep those levels optimal.
Vitamin A rich foods include: beef liver, carrots, sweet potato, kale, romaine lettuce, apricots, broccoli, butter, eggs, cantaloupe melon and red pepper.
Vitamin E essential nutrition for recovery after surgery
The main function of vitamin E in humans is as an antioxidant which are known to neutralizes toxic radicals in the cells. Vitamin E has been shown to improve immune system functions that decline as people age. It helps increase blood flow. It does this by preventing blood clots and relaxing blood vessel walls. These properties all shorten post surgery recovery time.
Vitamin E rich foods include: sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, mango, avocado, butternut squash, broccoli, spinach, kiwi and tomatoes.
Vitamin D – essential for recovery after surgery
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin needed for normal calcium metabolism. You make vitamin D in your skin when you are in the sun without clothing or sunscreen. Vitamin D regulates your immune system function during times of stress. Adequate vitamin D levels are important for decreasing the risk of high blood pressure.
If you do not have enough vitamin D you can prolong your recovery time. With deficiency you will not absorb enough calcium. Then your body will steal calcium from your bones. This will increase complications and longer term your risk of osteoporosis and other health problems.
Vitamin D deficiency causes muscle weakness and pain. Obesity increases the risk of vitamin D deficiency. Once vitamin D is made in the skin or ingested, it is deposited in body fat stores. Storage makes it less available especially to people with large amounts of body fat.
Vitamin D rich foods include: halibut, mackerel, salmon, rainbow trout, cod liver oil, sardines, tuna and eggs.
Iron – essential nutrient for recovery after surgery
Iron is required for a number of vital functions, including growth, reproduction, healing, and immune function. You need the right amount of iron for hundreds of proteins and enzymes. Post-operative anaemia is associated with poorer surgical outcomes including infections, increased length of hospital stay, circulatory overload, and death.
Iron rich foods include: spirulina, liver, beef, lentils, dark chocolate, spinach, sardines, black beans, pistachios and raisins.
Copper – essential for recovery after surgery
You must have enough copper in your system for normal iron metabolism and red blood cell formation. Anaemia is a sign of copper deficiency. Copper is required for you to be able to move iron to your bone marrow for red blood cell formation. Vitamin A deficiency will make iron deficiency anaemia worse. Taking a combination of vitamin A and iron will protect you from anaemia better than either iron or vitamin A alone.
Copper rich foods include: beef liver, shitake mushrooms, cashews, chickpeas, kale, cocoa powder, sesame seeds, quinoa, almonds, lentils and chia seeds.
Calcium essential nutrition for surgical recovery
Calcium is the most common mineral in the human body. About 99 percent of the calcium in your body is found in your bones and teeth. The other one percent is found in your blood and soft tissue. The functions of calcium are so vital to survival that the body will steal calcium from your bones. It does this to keep blood calcium levels normal when your calcium intake is too low.
Calcium plays many important roles. It is vital in controlling the constriction (closing) and relaxation (opening) of your blood vessels. It also aids proper nerve impulses, muscle contraction, and release of your hormones.
Calcium is a key factor for good recovery from any surgery involving your bones.
Only about 30 percent of the calcium in your food is actually absorbed in your digestive tract. You lose a certain amount of calcium in your urine every day. This depends on how much caffeine you drink. Too much or not enough protein in your diet will affect your calcium absorption and the strength of your bones.
Calcium rich foods include: kale, sardines, yoghurt, broccoli, watercress, cheese, bok choy and almonds.
Magnesium – essential nutrition for recovery after surgery
Magnesium plays important roles in the structure and the function of the human body. Over 60 percent of all the magnesium in your body is found in your bones. About 27 percent is found in muscle, while six to seven percent is found in other cells. Magnesium is required by many other nutrients, like vitamin D and calcium, to function properly.
Proper wound healing after surgery requires the right amounts of calcium and magnesium in the fluid around the cells involved in the injury. If you are having surgery that involves your bones, magnesium is very important for the best outcome.
Magnesium rich foods include: spinach, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocado, yoghurt and banana.
Zinc essential nutrition for surgical recovery
Zinc is an essential trace element for all forms of life. Zinc deficiency has recently been recognized by a number of experts as an important public health issue. A diet very high in grains like wheat can cause zinc deficiency.
You must have enough zinc to keep your immune system healthy. If you don’t have enough zinc, you are more likely to become ill from a number of different infectious bacteria or viruses. Equally too much can dampen your immune system. It is important to ensure your intake is on point.
Zinc rich foods include: lamb, pumpkin seeds, beef, chickpeas, cocoa powder, cashews, yoghurt, mushrooms, spinach and chicken.
Selenium – essential nutrition for recovery from surgery
Selenium is a trace element that is essential in small amounts to the work of many other nutrients. This includes vitamin C, vitamin E, copper, zinc, and iron. It aids wound healing by regulating cell growth.
Your thyroid gland needs selenium for normal function. Thyroid hormone tells your body how fast to function. If your cells work too slowly, your healing from wounds and your daily tissue repair will not go well.
People who are low in selenium may be more likely to become ill when stressed by difficult events like surgery or exposure to bacteria and viruses.
Selenium rich foods include: Brazil nuts, halibut, sardines, beef, turkey, beef liver, chicken and eggs.
Overall essential nutrition for recovery…
Good nutrition will help you make the best recovery from your surgery. If you are unsure of how to structure your intake to optimise and prepare/recover regarding your operation, contact Gillian Killiner at 121 Dietitian. Gillian is an expert in nutrition for health, pre and post surgery. She or one of her colleagues will be happy to assess and advise you. You can avail of there services at our Northern Ireland clinic or online worldwide.
Unsure of how to change your eating habits, or need help optimising the foods you eat please do contact us. We would love to help you or your family and friends with any nutrition related queries big or small.
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Information checked & correct on 16th May 2018 and Jan 2021.
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