Nutrition for Wound Healing: How to Spot and Overcome Recovery Hurdles

Recovering from Surgery: Nutrition for Surgical Wound Healing

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Impaired wound healing may indicate an underlying health issue. Here are some signs to look for, and how you can promote recovery through nutrition.

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AUG. 29, 2020  3 MIN. READ

We're all different. But we're all made up of 99.9% of the same DNA, meaning our bodies aren't so different after all. In fact, we need many of the same elements to function. This is especially true with nutrition for wound healing.

Poor nutrition is just one factor that can delay wound healing. Age, as well as health conditions, such as diabetes or cancer, malnutrition, and cardiovascular issues can further impact healing. Soft-tissue infections and medications can also contribute to delayed wound healing. 

Jeff Nelson, a senior research scientist at Abbott, illuminated the link between nutrition and healing: "The body's priority is survival, so available nutrients get routed to organs first. What remains is sent to support the wound healing process— and it may not be enough."

Nutrition for Wound Healing

When working to heal wounds, Nelson said, people should prioritize conditionally essential nutrients — amino acids like arginine and glutamine that the body can typically synthesize on its own, but that may be underproduced in physiologically stressful scenarios like during illness or following surgery. Arginine can be found in meats like turkey, pork and chicken, as well as plant proteins like pumpkin and sesame seeds. Glutamine is found in fish, cabbage, spinach and tofu.

Conditionally essential amino acids aren’t the only nutrients that support healing. Other helpful ingredients include:

  • Protein from poultry, fish, eggs and beans.
  • HMB (β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate) from a nutrition supplement like Juven.
  • Zinc from whole grains, chickpeas, cashews and almonds.
  • Vitamin C from citrus fruits, broccoli and bell peppers.
  • Vitamin E from vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.
  • Vitamin B12 from fish, meat and milk products.

Without proper nutrition, Nelson stressed, wounds may be slow to heal moving from acute to chronic status and resulting in more serious complications.

"The body's priority is survival, so available nutrients get routed to organs first. What remains is sent to support the wound healing process — and it may not be enough."

Jeff Nelson, PhD, senior research scientist, Abbott

What's the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Wounds?

"An acute wound is something that happens suddenly — a surgical incision, a burn or some other kind of trauma that results in an open wound," he explained. Under healthy circumstances, wounds are typically acute and progress normally through the healing stages.

Chronic wounds, such as diabetic foot ulcers or pressure injuries, affect more than 6 million people in the U.S. and the healing process can be more complicated. "Chronic wounds fail to progress through the normal stages of healing and are often a sign of an underlying health or nutritional issue," Nelson said.

What Are the Signs of Impaired Wound Healing?

Even when you prioritize proper nutrition, you may find that your wound still recovers slowly. That's largely because no two bodies heal the same way or at the same speed. However, a sluggish healing process may indicate an underlying health issue. As such, you'll want to look out for these common signs of impaired wound healing:

  • No noticeable healing within four weeks: Acute wounds display visible signs of healing, such as scabbing, skin overgrowth and wound shrinking, during this time frame.
  • An increase in pain: Wound discomfort should steadily decrease, not increase, during the healing stages.

  • Persistent inflammation, redness or swelling: Some redness along skin edges is normal, signaling that the immune system's hard at work. Inflammation that spreads to the surrounding tissues, however, indicates a wound is reopening.

  • Discharge and odors: Fresh wounds and incisions often have a slight odor, but this funkiness should subside through the healing process. A lingering foul odor, especially one that accompanies a yellow or green discharge, suggests possible infection.

"If you or a caretaker notice any of these signs, or otherwise suspect a wound is not healing as you might expect bring it to your healthcare professional's attention," he urged.

Juven should be used under medical supervision, so talk to your physician or a dietitian to see if Juven is right for you.  They can help you address any nutrition gaps in your eating plan. They may suggest adding a therapeutic nutrition beverage like Juven® to the mix.

Juven contains nutrients designed to support wound healing, including arginine and glutamine, collagen protein and several essential vitamins and minerals. It also includes HMB, which can help you maintain lean body mass which is important for overall health.

Remember, you know your body better than anybody. If you sense something is amiss, reach out to a medical professional. Not only can they help get you on the road to recovery, but they can also provide care for any complications you may be experiencing.

Post-Surgical Nutrition: Ideas for Easy Meals and Snacks

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Person adds chopped carrots to a pot of white bean and vegetable soup.


Eating well is a fundamental aspect of maintaining good health, but when it comes to post-surgical nutrition, it takes on a whole new level of importance. After a surgical procedure, providing your body with adequate nutrients may help to support tissue repair, manage inflammation and support the immune system.

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Wound Healing Support Through Nutrition

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Each person  is unique, so it makes sense that the wound healing rate would vary from one person to another. But for nutritionally at-risk individuals, especially those with underlying health issues such as cancer, diabetes and other chronic conditions, the wound healing process after injuries and surgeries may not proceed as expected.  

If this sounds like you, don't panic. “With the right nutrition, you can support your recovery and overall healing process”, says Jeff Nelson, associate research fellow at Abbott. We sat down with him to discuss some health conditions that can affect wound healing and why nutrition should be part of your care plan. 

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Juven is specialized nutrition therapy to support wound healing.