Nutritional Remedies for Wound Healing
Wound healing is a natural process that helps the body to restore itself to health. It is a complex and dynamic process that involves different phases. These include control of bleeding (hemostasis), which begins immediately after tissue injury; inflammation, where immune cells try to fight invading microbes and clear cellular debris; and a series of processes that lead to repair and remodeling of tissues. These events occur in a regulated manner, and anything that interrupts or disturbs these mechanisms may cause a delay in wound healing or result in chronic, non-healing wounds.
Factors that Affect Wound Healing
There are several factors that affect wound healing. These include local factors (around the wound) and general health factors:
- The amount of oxygen available. Initially, low oxygen levels around the wound triggers the healing process, but later, more oxygen in the tissues will be required for successful wound healing.
- The presence of infection may prolong the inflammatory process and delay tissue repair and healing.
- Older individuals tend to have slower rates of wound healing, but this is just temporary for healthy people. Older men are also more likely to experience delayed wound healing compared to elderly women.
- It has been shown that physical and psychological stress may deregulate immune mechanisms and negatively affect wound healing.
- People who have diabetes with uncontrolled blood sugar levels experience non-healing ulcers. Factors that contribute to this problem include lack of tissue oxygen, chronic infection, and reduced immune resistance.
- Some medicines cause delay in wound healing. These include glucocorticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and chemotherapeutic drugs.
- Studies show that compared to normal-weight individuals, obese individuals are more likely to experience wound infections, wound complications, and impaired wound healing.
- Other factors that delay wound healing include heavy alcohol consumption, smoking, and nutritional deficiencies.
The Role of Nutrition in Wound Healing
Health experts recognize the important role nutrition plays in the process of wound healing. Malnutrition or nutrient deficiency can negatively impact wound healing, especially after trauma or surgery. Patients who have a nutrition deficiency and chronic or non-healing wounds often need special nutrients. Other patients who have medical conditions such as diabetes, which affect their nutrition, may also experience problems in wound healing.
Health experts recommend eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes a variety of foods to obtain the calories, proteins, vitamins, and minerals one needs for proper wound healing. However, some people may need supplemental nutrition to meet the protein and calorie requirements necessary for wound healing. Some studies suggest that mixed supplements containing protein, arginine, vitamin C, zinc, and other micronutrients improves healing in patients with pressure ulcers.
Carbohydrates (and some fat) are the primary sources of energy needed for wound-healing. Experts recommend eating five servings of carbohydrates per day, which should consist ideally of whole grain products such as bread, rice, cereals, and pasta.
Protein and Amino Acids
One of the most important nutrients that affect wound healing is protein. Protein deficiency can impair wound healing and tissue remodeling. It also affects the immune system, which may result in an increased susceptibility to infection. Collagen, which is the major component of connective tissues, is composed of amino acids such as proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline, and its synthesis requires the presence of co-factors such as vitamin C and iron. A deficiency in these co-factors may also result in delayed wound healing.
Arginine is another amino acid that is required during the process of wound healing, as well as many other body functions. It is a precursor to proline, and thus, sufficient levels are needed to support collagen formation and wound contraction. It also improves immune function and stimulates proper wound healing.
Glutamine is an amino acid that serves as a major source of energy for rapidly developing cells. The amount of glutamine in the blood may be reduced after trauma, major surgery, and serious infection. It plays a crucial role in stimulating the inflammatory response which occurs during early wound healing. Oral supplementation with glutamine has been shown to improve immune response and wound healing.
Lipids or fats are often used as nutritional support for critically ill patients as well as surgical patients to provide energy and essential nutrients for wound healing and repair. Fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, are believed to help improve immune function and reduce infectious complications.
Vitamins and Minerals
Studies suggest that vitamins A, C and E show potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Vitamin C has been shown to have many roles in wound healing. A deficiency in vitamin C is associated with impaired healing, which may be due to decreased collagen synthesis and cell proliferation, and impaired immune response, which increases your susceptibility to wound infection. Similarly, a deficiency in vitamin A affects wound healing.
Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant that helps maintain and stabilize cell membrane integrity by protecting it against oxidation and destruction. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that are believed to play a role in preventing excess scar formation from wounds.
Micronutrients that have been shown to be important for tissue repair include magnesium, copper, zinc, and iron.
In summary, wound healing is a complex process that requires nutritional support. Important nutrients that may promote proper wound healing include proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates, fatty acids, vitamins A, C, and E, copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc. Consult your doctor for advice regarding supplementation with these nutrients to improve wound healing and tissue repair.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
Medscape. Wound Healing and Repair. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1298129-overview#a1
Medscape. Nutrition and Pressure Ulcer Healing. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/780833
J Dent Res. Factors Affecting Wound Healing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2903966/