Wondering what you should eat to help with your wound healing? Below are some general nutrition guidelines. We’ll be posting suggestions for specific foods soon, so be on the lookout for our next blog post.
It takes a lot of energy to heal a wound. You must start with optimal nutrition and give your body the energy to heal itself. The old saying “you are what you eat” has a lot of validity when it comes to healing. Food provides the raw materials and the context that our body needs to heal itself. Estimates are that 40–60 percent of adults over sixty are clinically malnourished.
Malnutrition has three harmful effects on your wound: it prolongs the inflammatory phase, decreases the formation of collagen and blood vessels, and increases your risk for infection. Healing requires increased metabolism and thus energy demands. Without adequate nutritional intake, the body shifts to a “catabolic” state and breaks down muscle for necessary amino acid protein building blocks. This is ultimately harmful.
You can also be “overfed and undernourished.” Nearly 9 percent of two- to five-year-olds are now obese. Since 1980, U.S. childhood obesity rates have tripled and the number of obese teens has quadrupled. Globally, 10-12 percent of adults are now obese.
In some measure caused by the rising obesity epidemic, now more than half of Americans struggle with chronic illness including chronic wounds, so it is critically important to pay attention to what you eat and to follow the advice given in this chapter.
The food you eat is a very powerful drug. It has tremendous influence over biochemical processes and controls such critical factors as inflammation, tissue repair, and even chronic pain. Some foods cause inflammation and low-grade immunologic reactions, which sabotage your ability to heal. Some foods contribute to “leaky gut” within your gastrointestinal tract. This allows toxins to seep across your intestinal barrier into your bloodstream. This causes chronic systemic inflammation, wrecks your health, and ultimately prevents healing.
Health of Your Gut Flora
Scientists and doctors are just starting to understand the importance of the billions of bacteria (of many different species) in our intestinal tracts. Collectively, they are called the “gut flora.” Some estimates are that there are as many bacteria living inside of you as there are cells in your body. The proportions of different species of these bacteria matter. Some tend to promote health more than others, and certain compositions of gut flora lead to chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes and may contribute to chronic inflammation and thus poor wound healing.
Broad spectrum, powerful antibiotics disrupt the gut flora. Even though antibiotics are sometimes necessary for infection, well-meaning physicians who are either uninformed or just have tunnel vision, destroy your microbiome with the all-too-common practice of repeatedly prescribing for chronic wounds. In addition, the overuse of antibiotics is leading to bacterial resistance, diminishing their potential effectiveness for life-threatening infections where they are really needed.
Eat to Heal
There are hundreds of books written on what you should eat. Most are very prescriptive “eat this, don’t eat that, etc.” (That is actually the title of a book.) Rather than replicate those, we will make a few specific dietary recommendations, and we absolutely recommend picking up any or all the books listed in the references for more details on the type of diet best for you.
If you want to heal your wounds and reverse many of your diseases, eat a moderate to high protein, low-glycemic index, low-carbohydrate, seafoodbased, “Paleo”-type diet. It should be ketogenic in the winter and include more carbohydrates in the summer. If you are not familiar with this type of eating style, there are several excellent books including books by Dr. Jack Kruse, Robb Wolf, and Dr. Loren Cordain that can help introduce you to this type of eating. You may want to spend some time searching for more information on ketogenic diets on the Internet. Ketogenic diets are generally very high in healthy fat content (coconut oil, grass fed butter, ghee, avocados, olive oil, nuts, etc.). These type of diets have shown tremendous success at controlling and even helping reverse Type 2 Diabetes. Avoid modern processed foods. Shop around the periphery of most supermarkets.
Our bodies adapted and were designed to eat foods we could procure by hunting, fishing, or gathering. These include fish, shellfish, meats, vegetables, fruits (in season), and nuts. Food you should not eat include grains (wheat, corn, oats, rye, etc.), sugar, legumes (beans, including peanuts), and dairy products (although some people handle dairy better than others). Our bodies are also adapted to periods of fasting and lack of food, and intermittent fasting has actually been shown to be a powerful tool in reversing insulin resistance, facilitating weight loss and even potentially reversing diabetes. See Dr. Fung’s books in the reference section for more details.
Eliminating (or at least substantially reducing) your consumption of those “non-ancestral” foods may help you to lose weight, decrease inflammation, and control or help reverse the symptoms of many diseases, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, thyroid problem, bowel problems, etc. You will feel better and more energetic.
Supermarkets, microwave ovens (do not use them), processed foods, foods in boxes, jars, cans, etc., are relatively recent (thirty to forty years old) innovations in human history. Despite industry sponsored, seemingly well-meaning (but tragically wrong) United States government guidelines on nutrition over that same time, there has been an explosion of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, brain disease, and auto-immune disease. Although food is certainly not the only explanation for this—circadian biology and light may be a bigger driver—food is an important thing to pay attention to as you try to regain your health.
We know that the thought of “never eating ______ again” (insert your favorite food—jelly donuts?) is daunting. Just commit to this style of eating for at least one month and see how you look and feel. You may decide that it just is not worth it to your health and sense of well-being to eat things that make you feel tired or sick, or perhaps you start eating them only occasionally, which is way better than all the time.