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.
"Nutrients are the building blocks of any recovery," Nelson said. "Without them, your body is like a car stuck in the snow: The tires keep spinning. The car burns fuel. But it can't move forward." Without proper nutrition, the healing process stalls and the door swings open to potential complications.
Apart from making it difficult for the body to heal surgical wounds, malnutrition can also trigger muscle breakdown. This occurs when your body doesn't get enough of the right nutrients, including protein. "Muscle is the body's reservoir of amino acids for tissue synthesis, survival of organs, regular respiratory function and other body processes," he explained. "If you aren't getting all of the amino acids you need from food, the body begins pulling from and degrading muscle stores."
In some types of cardiovascular disease, the heart may weaken, or the vascular system itself may suffer from plaque buildup and blockages. The result? Poor blood flow that can make it harder for oxygen and nutrients to reach wounds and aid in repair.
"Blood flow is essential to wound healing, as it carries all of the necessary building blocks for repair to the site," Nelson noted. The effects of reduced blood flow are most notable in the extremities, including the arms, legs, hands and feet. Nutrients, such as the amino acid Arginine supports blood flow.
Nutrients are the building blocks of any recovery, without them, your body is like a car stuck in the snow. The tires keep spinning. The car burns fuel. But it can't move forward.
Jeff Nelson, PhD, associate research fellow, Abbott
Diabetes-related nerve damage can lead to cellular dysfunction that can impair wound recovery. Nerve damage also introduces the risk of foot ulcers: open sores or wounds that may require hospitalization. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, about 15% of people with diabetes will experience foot ulcers.
"At this stage, due to the reduced peripheral circulation that can accompany diabetes, it can be difficult for wounds to heal," Nelson explained. "And high blood sugar levels can increase the risk of infections in ulcers and other wounds."
People with cancer can be more susceptible to open wounds and sores, due to depleted nutrient levels. Both cancer itself and its treatments can compromise the health and strength of skin and reduce its ability to heal. Around 95% of people who undergo radiation treatment will experience subsequent skin injuries or reactions, known as radiation dermatitis.
Meanwhile, up to 74%1 of those with cancer may experience some degree of cachexia, a potentially life-threatening condition characterized by the loss of lean body mass. That loss, Nelson said, is often accompanied by impaired wound healing: "The issue for people with cancer is not just the cancer itself, but the impact of the treatments they receive like chemotherapy and radiation, which often leads to a decrease in appetite. And simply put, if you are not eating, you’re not getting the nutrients you need to help with the wound-healing process."
How Nutrition Can Help
Eating a diet that's rich in whole foods and provides adequate calories and nutrients is one way you can improve your nutrition status and ability to heal from surgical wounds. However, sometimes the normal diet is not enough. When you're also managing a chronic condition that can even further impair nutrition status and healing, a therapeutic nutrition drink like Juven® can help.
Juven provides a balance of key ingredients that go above and beyond basic nutrition to help support wound healing.
While wound healing takes time the right nutrients may help the process along. If you have an injury or are preparing to undergo surgery, sit down with your doctor to discuss personalized options and see if Juven is right for you.
References: 1. Williams JZ, et al. Ann Surg. 2002;236(3):369-375. 2. May PE, et al. Am J Surg. 2002;183:471-479. 3. Wilson GJ, et al. Nutr Metab. 2008;5:1. 4. Nissen SL, et al. J Nutr Biochem. 1997;8(6):300-311. 5. Stechmiller JK, et al. Nutr Clin Pract. 2005;20(1):52-61. 6. Preli RB, et al. Atherosclerosis. 2002;162(1):1-15. 7. Andrews FJ, et al. Br J Nutr. 2002;87(suppl 1):S3-S8. 8. Sugihara F, et al. Jpn Pharmacol Ther. 2015;43(9):1323-1328. 9. Lee SK, et al. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2006;19(2):92-96.
Juven has been shown to support wound healing in numerous populations for over 15 years.
Use Juven under medical supervision as part of a complete, balanced diet.
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Nutrition for Wound Healing: How to Spot and Overcome Recovery Hurdles
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.
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