Maximizing the Surgery Recovery Process

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: General Health
Last Reviewed 02/14/2014

Maximizing the Surgery Recovery Process

Power Healing is a term I’ve coined for a nutritional supplement program aimed at fortifying patients before surgery and accelerating their surgery recovery. I recommend it whenever a patient faces a surgical procedure. Since most of my patients are already taking supplements, they may only have to make some minor adjustments in their program.

Although there are some caveats to keep in mind, the right supplements can make a big difference in your surgery recovery, so before I tell you what supplements to take and when to take them as part of the surgery recovery process, I want to first cover three important requirements about these supplements.

Inform Your Doctor

Most supplements are not only safe for surgical patients but will actually aid in the surgery recovery process. However, some may not be appropriate. Thus, regardless of whether your surgery is major or minor, always tell your doctor what you’re taking well in advance of the day of the surgery. Incredibly, 70 percent of patients don’t disclose all the supplements they use.

A prime example comes from Joe, one of my longtime patients. Years ago, Joe needed to have an aortic valve replacement and bypass surgery. He was a keen supplement advocate and took a number of things that even I didn’t know about—including a great deal of garlic, volumes of vitamin E and a fair amount of fish oil.

Those supplements were good for him as natural anticoagulants. However, when you go in for surgery, you need your blood to clot—so the incisions won’t bleed after they’re sutured, promotingproper surgery recovery.

Joe didn’t tell me (or his surgeon) everything he was taking, so he experienced complications from excess bleeding and ended up needing an additional procedure to address the problem. He eventually recovered, but the lesson was learned. What he should have done is told me all the supplements he was using, so I could advise him when to stop taking certain ones.

Before Surgery: Stop Using Certain Supplements

In addition to the garlic, vitamin E and fish oil that Joe was taking, ginkgo biloba and aspirin should also be stopped due to their blood-thinning effects. However, unwanted bleeding isn’t the only concern. Some supplements can also interfere with anesthesia.

For instance, St. John’s wort may increase sedation when narcotics are administered. Further herbs singled out by anesthesiologists include ephedra (also called Ma Huang), feverfew, goldenseal, garlic, ginseng, ginger, licorice and valerian.

Because of possible problems, some physicians suggest stopping all supplements a week before surgery, though I’m a bit more lenient. In my experience, you’re okay to stop three days before, and then start up again three days after. Additionally, you might choose to consult with a nutrition-oriented physician who can customize a program for you before your surgery. Whatever you do, though, be sure to inform your doctors.

Other Things to Avoid: Alcohol and Certain Painkillers

I always tell my patients who are going in for major surgery involving general anesthesia to stop drinking alcohol a month before the operation. You need your liver operating optimally and, as you no doubt know, alcohol is toxic to the liver.

I also suggest staying away from acetaminophen (Tylenol), which has a toxic effect on the liver. In clinical studies, this over-the-counter painkiller has been associated with unexplained liver failure. If you rely on painkillers, check with your doctor for any pre-operation advice.

My Power Healing Program

My recommended Power Healing supplements can be found at most health food stores. Remember, for optimal surgery recovery, stop taking the supplements about three days before surgery because of the potential for certain nutrients, particularly herbs, to interact with anesthesia and medication. Except where noted below, you can start your supplements again, three days after surgery.

Pre- and Post-Surgery

  • Take a high-quality multinutrient as part of your daily routine before and after surgery. Choose one that contains 25 to 50 mg of the B complex vitamins.
     
  • Surgical trauma (particularly from cardiac surgery) causes an increase in free radicals, which disrupt and damage cellular function. For this reason alone, you should take at least 50 mg of CoQ10 as part of your daily routine before surgery, and 100–200 mg per day for at least four weeks during surgery recovery.
     
  • Because surgery depletes your body of vitamin C, take 500–1,000 mg as part of your daily routine before surgery and 1,000 mg three times a day after surgery. Return to your usual dosage after two weeks.
     
  • Numerous studies indicate that vitamin C helps prevent surgical shock and post-surgical bed sores, and that it significantly speeds healing time. It’s also necessary for the production of collagen—a basic structural protein used in wound repair.
     
  • Begin taking milk thistle a month before surgery, and then continue for a month after (follow label instructions for dosage). This wonderful herb protects, rejuvenates and repairs the liver. General anesthesia and other medications used during and after surgery are exceptionally hard on the liver, so anything you can do to protect this vital organ will be a big plus for your surgery recovery.
     
  • Increase your zinc intake to 30–50 mg for two weeks before and two weeks after surgery, using zinc picolinate. Zinc is critical to wound healing, and surgery or trauma can decrease the level of zinc in your body.
     
  • Start taking a probiotic supplement two weeks before surgery, and continue using it for at least a month afterward—or, better yet, indefinitely. Choose a strain that contains acidophilus and bifida bacteria (follow label instructions for dosage). Surgical patients often receive oral or intravenous antibiotics in the hospital, which creates the potential for fungal disorders (including yeast infections), digestive disturbances and diarrhea. A probiotic can help counteract these problems, promoting surgery recovery.

Also After Surgery

  • Take 250 mg of vitamin B6 twice a day for a week, starting three days after surgery. This nutrient helps reduce post-surgical fluid retention, such as swelling of the face, hands, feet or legs. The swelling usually takes two to four weeks to go down. With B6, you can experience substantial reduction within 24 to 48 hours.
     
  • To reduce inflammation, take 2,000–3,000 mg of omega-3 fish oil per day for two weeks after surgery. You can then go to a maintenance dosage of 500–1,000 mg per day. If fish oil is already part of your daily routine, be sure to stop taking it five days before surgery, since it can promote blood thinning and increase bleeding during surgery.
     
  • Take bromelain on an empty stomach for two weeks after surgery (follow label instructions for dosage). This formidable pineapple enzyme supplement helps prevent blood clots, aids the liver and digestion and decreases inflammation and pain after surgery—all vital to surgery recovery. It also helps to remove protein debris that form at trauma sites.
     
  • Another supplement to relieve pain and inflammation is the homeopathic remedy Arnica 30C. Take one pellet four or five times a day for up to two weeks after surgery.

I highly recommend following this Power Healing program to maximize the surgery recovery process. Not only will you be able to recuperate faster, so you can get back to the enjoyable task of living each day to your full capability, you’ll also be able to make it through your surgery recovery more easily.

One last thing: Whenever I make extensive supplement recommendations such as this, people always ask for my top three choices if they couldn’t—or didn’t want to—take everything. In this case, here’s what I recommend at a minimum:

  • Multinutrient formula
  • Vitamin C
  • CoQ10

References

Cheraskin, E, et al. The Vitamin C Connection. New York: Bantam Books; 1984:53–65.

Hallböök, T, Hedelin, H. Zinc metabolism and surgical traumas. Br J Surg. 1977;644:271–273.

Norred, C. Herbs and anesthesia. Alternative Therapies in Women’s Health. 2001;3(4):26–30.

Rosenfeldt, F, et al. Coenzyme Q10 therapy before cardiac surgery improves mitochondrial function and in vitro contractility of myocardial tissue. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2005;129(1):25–32.

Seymour, DG, Vaz, FG. A prospective study of elderly general surgical patients: II. Post-operative complications. Age Ageing. 1989;18(5):316–326.

Taussig, SJ, Batkin, S. Bromelain, the enzyme complex of pineapple and its clinical application. An update. J Ethnopharmacol. 1988;222:191–203.

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