A crucial time period we often do not allow sufficient time for is preparing ourselves to get ready for surgery. And I don’t mean getting ready when it comes to work, family and home responsibilities, I am referring to ourselves.
Too often we forget that before surgery, what requires our most important attention is to help our body embrace what’s going to happen to it, so we can avoid an exaggerated inflammation response, prevent possible infection, and help with wound healing and overall recovery
Many of us cancer patients will face some form of surgery at some point during our cancer travels. Whether a minor procedure like a biopsy, or a major procedure such as removing cancerous tissues or even complete organ systems, it is a violation of the body from which you will need to recover from. How fast and fluid this recovery might be can be influenced by you!
Here’s a little help to get you ready for surgery and beyond!
Does Nutrition Matter?
Can the foods we eat (or don’t eat…), or the supplements, botanicals and herbal remedies we take impact a successful surgery? You bet! Our main aim when it comes to our food choices overall, but in particular before surgery, is to reduce systemic inflammation to encourage wound healing and overall post-surgery recovery.
Surgery itself is a process of inflammation the body will have to deal with in addition to potential underlying pre-existing conditions, let’s not exacerbate this with poor nutritional choices.
Processed and Comfort Foods
Processed foods are not real food, and besides lacking nutrient content they can contribute to conditions that can cause cellular inflammation due to their high levels of sugar and hydrogenated fats, artificial flavoring and coloring, as well as preservatives and stabilizers that are often classified as carcinogens.
The time around surgery is often conducive to wanting to indulge in comfort foods, and that usually means sugar overload. A chronic imbalanced glucose and insulin relationship is a contributing factor to the Diabetes II epidemic as well as other chronic health conditions that are ravaging our western society. It is a highly inflammatory condition and subjecting the body to more stress around surgery is the last thing we want to do.
This is the time to eat wholesome, real food. Have people cook and prepare proper meals for you, with lots of
- colorful vegetables and anti-inflammatory fruits like berries, lemons and limes
- leafy greens such as salad greens, Arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, Collard greens, Watercress, sprouts
- cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
- mushrooms of all kind
- leeks, garlic, onions, green onions, shallots
- sea vegetables such as nori, kelp/kombu or dulse flakes
- Vegetable and Bone broth are great to sip on when your appetite has not fully recovered post-surgery but your body already needs nutrient dense foods
Don’t be afraid to hand out wholesome recipes to well-meaning friends and family and ask them to prepare these. They will embrace the fact that they have specific instructions to serve you real, nourishing foods.
Supplements to avoid before surgery!
Natural Blood thinners
There are certain nutrients and herbs we need to be careful with when about to have surgery. A standard note of caution that you will hear your doctor or the surgery prep team tell you is to stay away from vitamin E and fish oil products two weeks prior to surgery. These can contribute to blood thinning, and you want to avoid doing that as during surgery bleeding will occur.
Herbs and botanicals in supplement form that can contribute to blood thinning include
- Garlic (not as a whole food though)
- Ginkgo biloba
- Panax ginseng
- Red clover
If you are wondering where you would find red clover, it sometimes is contained in certain supplements or herbal remedies. Read ingredient labels carefully, ask your practitioner, and stop taking these about two weeks before your scheduled surgery.
Avoid taking these herbs and botanicals as supplements and tinctures about two weeks prior to surgery as they may interfere with anesthesia.
- St. John’s Wort
- Kava Kava
- Garlic (not as a whole food)
- Milk Thistle
Supplement Support AFTER-Surgery
Gut Microbiome Support
Oral and intravenous antibiotics are a standard precautionary and prophylactic measure administered after surgery to avoid post-surgery infection. Oral antibiotics create an imbalance in your gut microbiome, which is the foundation of your immune system, so you could be inadvertently setting off a future cascade of suppressed immune reactions. Taking a high-quality, multi-strain probiotic that has both lactobacilli as well as bifidobacteria strains in them is advisable for a couple of weeks following surgery, to counter the effects of any high-dose antibiotics you may be receiving. Do not take the probiotics at the same time as oral antibiotics, as they will lessen or even cancel out the therapeutic effects of each other. Allow two to three hours between taking an oral antibiotic and a probiotic.
Wound healing requires special attention. In the first few days after surgery, the body is in an acute response phase, reacting by creating a protective barrier with the help of the immune response to cover and seal the injury site. In the next 3 weeks or so a flurry of local action takes place, as increased blood flow to the site ensures a natural anti-bacterial clean-up, and cellular repair is initiated with the use of collagen crosslinking causing wound contraction as the site begins to visibly heal externally. The so-called remodeling phase (Quain, Khardori, 2015) is characterized by the formation of a new collagen matrix and subsequent scar formation, and this phase can last up to a few years as surgery sites heal and reshape themselves on a continuous basis.
How nourished we are, and how many resources our immune system has to ensure this healing is optimal, is shaped to a large degree by our nutritional habits.
Certain nutrients play a key role in enhancing the wound healing process. Ideally you do not want to be deficient in these micronutrients before going into surgery. If there is enough time prior to surgery, I always advise my clients to do a micronutrient test to get clarity and target support certain deficiencies.
Here are key nutrients to optimally support wound healing:
- Vitamins: A, C and D
- Minerals: Zinc, Selenium and Iron
- Essential Fatty Acids: A blend of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids in the right ratios
- Proteolytic enzymes, in particular Bromelain, to be found in pineapple
- Flavonoids found in all the berry types
- Proteins – Amino Acids are the building blocks for cellular repair. Good sources of complete proteins are found in organic, grass-fed meats, poultry, eggs, wild-caught fish such as salmon, cod, halibut. Vegetarian protein sources such as certain whole grains, beans, lentils and other legumes, nuts and seeds are not considered “complete” as they do not contain all 8 essential amino acids we have to obtain from our diet. Diversity and food combining is key for vegans and vegetarians, and supplementing with a good quality protein powder may be required.
Alcohol needs to be broken down by our liver with the help of certain enzymes that simultaneously also help the liver break down various other toxins and chemicals, including prescription drugs. Each person can have genetic mutations that if activated, can influence how efficiently these liver enzymes can deal with the metabolism, or breakdown, of these toxic substances.
These genetics also determine how vulnerable a person is to the effects of medications. Consuming alcohol on a regular basis, and in particular in the days leading up to surgery, can thus play a role in how well a person recovers from the overall stress of surgery and its medication cocktails, such as anesthesia and inflammation and infection control.
Healing Tissue Trauma
Whenever we have any kind of intervention in the body where skin, connective tissues, muscles and organs are violated there will be natural trauma. An over-the-counter homeopathic remedy, Arnica Montana, can greatly calm the traumatized tissue and reduce swelling and discoloration. It comes in different potencies,does not interfere with any pain medication and can be taken orally, as tiny pellets to dissolve under the tongue, as soon as the aesthesia wears off. I did that each time I had my surgeries, and my bruising never got exacerbated, so much so that the nurses were generally very impressed at how quickly the wound healing happened. I credit this not just to the Arnica Montana, but to everything else I did, and still do, to support my body from the inside out.
Biopsies, and aspiration cytology, are the gold standard in diagnostic tools used to gain certainty on whether or not tissues and cells are malignant (cancerous) or benign. During this procedure a needle is inserted to extract a number of small tissue samples to analyze whether it contains cancerous cells. It is considered a sure way of confirming what externally applied diagnostic tools, such as CT scans, PET scans, X-rays or MRI’s can hint at. A great deal of fear centers around the question of whether there’s a risk of spreading or of micro-seeding cancer cells during this procedure.
Is a Biopsy Worth the Risk?
After scouring through research and controversial publications, I have come to this conclusion: Agreed, there is a potential risk involved when undergoing a biopsy, and whether or not this has the potential to contribute to a future, or a recurrent cancer, also depends on whether the microenvironment of the person in question is conducive to cancer growth in the first place. On the one hand, in those cases where micro-seeding happens, the immune system has the potential to take care of these cells, if adequately supported. On the other hand, refusing a biopsy and not knowing what exact type of possible cancer scenario you are dealing with to begin with could prevent a timely intervention plan to increase your overall chances of survival in the long run.
Modified Citrus Pectin and Galectin-3
Here’s the good news! There’s a well-studied nutrient we can look to for support – Modified Citrus Pectin. Pectin is a type of carbohydrate found in the peel and pith of citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit) and in apples, and is often commonly used when making jellies and jam. Initial studies focused on how MCP could reduce the amount of prostate antigens (PSA) in men who have had prostate cancer, but a number of human clinical trials are underway analyzing the overall cancer killing effects of MCP, inducing cancer cell death (apoptosis) and even supporting the cytotoxic effect of chemotherapy.
MCP’s therapeutic effect lies in its ability to block Galectin-3, a natural component that, in small quantities enhances cell-to-cell communication, but in excess can lead to inflammation, abnormal cell growth, tumor formation and metastatic cancer spread.
In fact, Galectin-3 is now known to play a contributing role in other inflammatory and fibrosis-related diseases including heart and kidney disease, liver cirrhosis, diabetes and arthritis. (Dr Isaac Eliaz, 2012). You can ask to have the Galectin-3 biomarker included in any standard blood screening panel, it is covered by most health insurances. I always include it in my annual post-cancer screening.
Having high levels of MCP in circulation prior to, and after a biopsy, or even surgery for that matter, has the potential to reduce possible micro-seeding and cancer cell spread, according to Dr Michael Murray (2002). Exact dosages depend on each individual and need to be ascertained in a private consultation. MCP can potentially interfere with the absorption of other drugs, reducing their therapeutic effect, so it is crucial that a personal protocol takes all other medications into account.
MCP is also now known to be an effective binder for heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic from circulation without also drawing out valuable minerals as is the case with many other heavy metal binders.
Get your Mind Ready
Getting mentally ready for surgery is often overlooked or considered second-rate to all the other prep work. Yet our Mind and Body are One, and we need to allow mindfulness an equal seat at the table. Let me begin by stressing how important it is for you, once you get a surgery date, to try and create a buffer for yourself so you can avoid charging into the surgery room at record speed, having still done a million little things just an hour beforehand.
Here’s my tip that worked each time for me like a charm! Pretend your surgery is going to be an entire week earlier! You want to enter the surgery in a mentally prepared and rested state, despite the anxiety it may cause you, and avoid arriving on the day of surgery all stressed and worn out. By allowing yourself this buffer week, you can focus on yourself, and ensure your immune system as well as your mental state of mind are ready for the action to come.
Guided Imagery and Guided Visualization
Guided imagery or guided visualizations are great tools to help you get to this point. This is where you listen to calming music and may have someone talk you through a process of relaxation. Studies have shown that engaging in some form of this actually
- reduces the days that people spend at hospital post-surgery
- reduces the pain medication that is required
- helps patients enter the operating room or even embrace anesthesia in a much calmer state of mind
Take a look at www.healthjourneys.com for a vast selection of recordings, it was my go-to place for a long time when my mind was too restless for me to meditate on my own.
Acupuncture has been shown to help the body-mind respond better to the trauma associated with a surgical procedure, reduce pain and aid in wound healing. Acupuncture taps into our body’s energetic pathways, or meridians. Surgery disrupts this energy flow, and acupuncture can bridge the gap and help restore the flow of life force, also known as Chi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or Prana in ayurvedic traditions. If you live in a state that does not require licensure, look up the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine https://www.nccaom.org/ to ensure that the acupuncturist in your area is certified. I have continuously used acupuncture throughout my healing journey and am amazed every single time how effective and whole-body system of an approach it is.
Related Article: Getting Ready for Chemotherapy!
Kirstin Nussgruber, CNC, EMB
Speaker and Educator
Founder of Eat Holistic LLC
PS: Are you a busy mom and need some help getting back in the kitchen? My FREE e-book, “Kitchen Essentials-4 Steps to Becoming your Own Master Chef & Cooking Nourishing Meals in 20 Minutes or Less,” may be the perfect solution! Download your copy today!
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