The role diet and nutrition play in recovery from plastic surgery
Picture this: You've located a top-notch board-certified plastic surgeon and booked your procedure. But guess what? The path to achieving your desired results has only just begun! It's a safe assumption that the outcome of surgery relies a great deal on the surgeon's expertise. And while their skills are no doubt critical, your lifestyle choices – including diet, vitamin intake and exercise habits - also play a significant role in influencing your results.
If you've had surgery or plan to have surgery, what you eat before and after surgery can affect how your healing postop progresses. Choosing nutrient-dense foods, taking recommended vitamins and supplements and staying active, hydrated and well-rested is essential for optimal recovery. By committing to a healthy lifestyle before and after your procedure, you not only gain the benefit of better immediate results, but you may also see long-lasting benefits from your procedure while promoting your overall well-being.
Follow along as two board-certified plastic surgeons and ASPS Member Surgeons discuss the importance of making a long-term commitment to a healthier you and how that choice leads to better outcomes!
The importance of a healthy lifestyle
"I have a unique perspective on health," said Ryan Neinstein, MD. "I see the implications of physical health, emotional health and psychological wellbeing intersecting each and every day in myself and my patients."
The healthier a patient is going into surgery, the stronger their chances are of an easier and faster recovery. Most surgeons have their patients focus on three major components: regular exercise, good nutrition and quitting smoking, but in Neinstein's practice, the goal is to focus on long-term health goals rather than just for surgery.
"Healthy lifestyle is much more than what you eat, how much you exercise and your sleeping patterns," he said. "In our practice, health is a commitment to playing an infinite game where there is no end in the sense that there is no goal to become healthy; the goal is to stay healthy... what is essential to the quality of surgical outcome and reduced downtime is the presence of life tactics that help optimize individual health."
Why exercise matters
In simple terms, routine exercise can help aid in muscle recovery, improve overall cardiovascular health and help flood tissue with tissue-building materials like stem cells.
"When you're anticipating elective surgery, a healthy lifestyle is very important for your postoperative recovery," said ASPS President Gregory Greco, DO, FACS. "There are things about a healthy lifestyle that will help you recover. Cardiovascular fitness, for example, will help you during your surgery from an anesthetic standpoint. Having lungs that are healthy allows you to take deep breaths making it easier to deliver that oxygen essential for tissue recovery."
Besides the benefits of regular exercise before surgery, many believe movement after surgery is crucial to healing. While the type of exercise will depend on the patient and what kind of procedure they had, most surgeons agree that light walking for procedures like liposuction and gluteal fat grafting (also known popularly as a Brazilian butt lift) is an integral part of recovery to help promote blood circulation and prevent issues like blood clots or deep vein thrombosis.
If you are able-bodied going into surgery, your recovery will be easier because "you'll be able to get up, you'll be able to move around," said Greco. "Often with our patients who have had a breast augmentation or a breast reconstruction, for example, sometimes they have to really rely on their core in order to get up from a laying down position without using their arms, that's where being physically fit comes in."
The impact nutrition has on healing
"There are multiple ways to achieve energy balance and distributions of nutrients in the body," said Neinstein. "If it was grown on a plant, eat it. If it's made in a plant, don't eat it. It's a simple strategy we suggest to our patients going into and out of surgery. Helping patients understand that focusing on a plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet will help prime the body for optimal healing and, more importantly, optimal feeling. We treat food like medicine, and we know it activates so many buttons and levers in the body to help improve healing."
When you are stocking up on food for after surgery, stick to whole foods. For the first few days after a procedure, your surgeon might recommend bland foods like rice and broth, but sticking to whole foods that are low in sodium can aid in lowering inflammation and help to keep blood sugars level, said Chloe Evans RN, BSN, certified integrative nutritional health coach, who works with Neinstein to help patients get optimal results after surgery.
"Eliminating heavily processed foods and focusing on whole, nutrient-dense food choices allows the patient to not only heal optimally and quickly but ensure long-lasting results," she said.
It's also essential to stick to foods that are high in protein. Some studies even state that increasing both calories and protein is essential for proper wound healing. Specifically, protein is a building block of the body and can not only aid in muscle and tissue repair, but it is also vital in helping your body fight off infections. If a patient lacks an adequate amount of protein, calories and micro and macronutrients, their overall healing could be compromised.
Vitamins: The good and the bad
If you have ever gotten surgery or have talked with a surgeon about surgery, there's a good chance they warned you about specific vitamins or medications to stay away from before going under the knife. While vitamins and herbs like fish oils, vitamin E and turmeric are otherwise good, Greco has his patients stop taking these in the weeks before surgery as they can cause an array of issues like increased bleeding.
While there are differing opinions on the types of vitamins, many surgeons like Greco agree vitamin C and zinc are necessary to take in the weeks before surgery "because we know that this optimizes the collagen, which is imperative to wound healing," said Greco.
According to a recent study, other vital nutrients, like vitamins A and D, can not only lower inflammation but enable healing, prevent infection and more. The use of vitamins in preoperative and postoperative care can play a vital role in overall recovery, so talk with your surgeon about your options.
Eating plenty of whole foods that nourish your body is always a good idea, but ensuring you get the necessary vitamins and minerals in the weeks and months surrounding plastic surgery is imperative. Getting the necessary nutrients can help your body recover correctly and supports wound healing. As always, talk with your board-certified plastic surgeons about the foods and vitamins that will help promote optimal recovery.
To find a qualified plastic surgeon for any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, consult a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All ASPS members are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed an accredited plastic surgery training program, practice in accredited facilities and follow strict standards of safety and ethics. Find an ASPS member in your area.