Beth Brink

Beth Brink

Nutrition plays a very important role in the healing of wounds. Without the proper fuels, wounds can take much longer to heal, if they are able to heal at all.

To better understand this, let’s take a look at the stages of wound healing. There are four stages in the process.

The first phase is the hemostasis phase. This is where the blood begins to clot and forms a dam to block the drainage of excess blood. The second phase is the inflammatory phase. In this phase, bacteria is being destroyed and the body is removing debris from the area. The third phase is the proliferation phase. This phase is marked by blood and new cells being formed to build a protective barrier. The final phase is the maturation phase where collagen matures, the wound closes and scars form. This phase can last up to two years depending on the severity of the wound.

Poor intake and deficits of specific nutrients can delay or inhibit wound healing. Carbohydrates, protein, water, vitamins and minerals each play a part in the healing process. The body is going to need extra energy to heal, therefore, one may need to eat more than what is normal for them. This is not a free pass to eat anything, but to wisely choose foods that can assist in the healing process.

Carbohydrates stimulate the production of insulin which regulates blood glucose which also contains zinc and growth factor to help repair damaged skin. However, it is important to keep in mind that too much glucose in the blood can increase the rate of potential infections and delay wound healing. Choose carbohydrates carefully. Don’t indulge in simple sugars, such as sugary cereals, drinks, baked goods, soda or juices. Instead, increase the number of complex carbohydrates such as beans, legumes, peas, fruit, nuts and whole grain which take longer to digest and don’t quickly spike blood glucose levels. This is especially important for people who are insulin resistant. Also keep in mind that medications such as steroids and some antibiotics can automatically increase blood glucose levels.

Protein is important in collagen synthesis and tissue repair at the structural level and also assists with immune function. Include a protein in each meal or snack. Because of its importance in wound healing make sure to eat all the protein before filling up on the rest of the meal/snack. Good sources of protein are eggs, nuts, dairy, chicken, fish and meat. For an extra boost in protein, you could add dry milk powder to cereals, cream soups or mashed potatoes.

Fats provide energy and assist in the absorption of vitamins and fatty acids. Unsaturated fats such as avocados, peanut butter, olives, nuts, seeds and fish are all beneficial in the healing process. Too many saturated fats, the fats from animals, can keep the body in a state of inflammation, so strictly limit these in the diet.

Water is key for skin elasticity, oxygen and blood delivery, diluting blood glucose, and assists in waste removal and delivery of micronutrients to the site of injury. If there is fever, vomiting, diarrhea or heavy drainage from the wound, you will need to drink more water to replace what is being lost.

Vitamins and minerals also play a vital role in wound healing. Vitamin C helps form new collagen. Zinc maintains durability of skin and mucosal membranes while boosting the immune system. Vitamin D regulates cell growth. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting. Iron delivers oxygen to tissues.

The bottom line is this, eat well in order to heal well.

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Beth Brink, MS, registered dietitian nutritionist and a licensed dietitian with DeTar Healthcare System.

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