How to prepare for surgery – to recover faster

recovery from surgery

Think of surgery like playing a sport. To prepare for tournaments, you train and follow tips from your coach, so you are ready to play your best game. If you’re not well trained, you’re not going to perform well. Surgery is much the same. What you do in the time leading up to surgery can have a really big impact on your recovery and long-term health. If you are planning to undergo surgery, or are recovering from a medical procedure, there are strategies you can use to ensure your body is well prepared for a healthy, steady recovery.

During surgery, the human body undergoes surgical stress. Surgical stress can impair the body’s ability to grow and heal. It can lead to weight and muscle loss, inflammation, poor wound healing, and complications like infections. Over the years, research has shown that following a nutritional regime, in the weeks and days before and after surgery, can help reduce these risks and set patients up for a quick recovery.

If you or a loved one requires surgery, consider increasing your nutrition and incorporating a few of our tips to help improve your post-surgery recovery time.

Tips for pre-surgery

Here’s how you can help get your body in the best place possible to heal in the quickest manner with the least amount of damage:

  • Eat high-quality protein – found in fish, poultry, nuts, and seeds, protein is crucial for tissue healing. Try to start incorporating more protein into your diet around 4 weeks prior to your surgery.
  • Ensure that you are eating a diet rich in antioxidants – this can be achieved by eating a daily ‘rainbow diet’. The more fresh fruits and vegetables in differing colours, the better.
  • Get plenty of vitamin C – an absolute must in your diet because it facilitates connective tissue repair. The HPA axis (a term used to represent the interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands) plays an important role in the body’s response to stress. The pathway of the axis results in the production of cortisol, which accelerates swelling through oxidative stress load. Physical, emotional and chemically-induced stress can create a deficiency in vitamin C. The bottom line is that tissue damage raises our body’s demand for this vitamin. Consuming food rich in this nutrient, such as oranges, red pepper and kiwi fruit, is necessary for tissue healing.
  • Take a multivitamin/mineral – this is especially important if your diet is not too good prior to surgery and after surgery.  I often recommend this one, take daily with food, click here.
  • Support your gut health – 90% of our immune system is based in our gut, so in order to recover well, we need our gut and immune system to be functioning well. You may wish to consider Live Bacteria probiotic supplementation 4 weeks prior to your operation. Supporting the gut lining pre- and post-op is also a good idea. You could incorporate bone broth and collagen powder for this. Or the supplement L-glutamine.
  • Try to minimise worry and anxiety about the surgery. High stress can lower our immune system which may prevent healing. Try practising gentle yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation a couple of weeks prior to your operation. I’ve always found visualisation very powerful when recovering from an illness. I used a lot of visualisation techniques when I was recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the early 1990s.
  • Be prepared – If your operation is going to leave you immobile for a while, you could consider preparing some healthy meals ready for when you are out of hospital, such as soups, stews, curries etc. Freeze them ready to support your healing post-op.

Post-operative care

  • Be kind to your tummy – teas can be very helpful in the days following surgery. For example, ginger has been shown to reduce nausea, a common side effect of anaesthesia and pain-relieving drugs. In one study of sixty women undergoing major gynaecological surgery, ginger was found equally effective to metoclopramide, a traditional medication used for preventing post-operative nausea. Ginger is one of the main ingredients in our calming and soothing hand-blended Tummy Tea.
  • Eat easy-to-digest, light foods – focus on freshly cooked soups, bone broth, scrambled eggs for protein etc.
  • Treat yourself to a few home-delivered meals, especially in the days immediately after surgery. Try this company for healthy freshly delivered meals for either 1 or two 2 persons.
  • Detoxify – dealing with the after-effects of anaesthesia and pain-relieving drugs can be a concern to patients. Although the body does have the ability to detoxify on its own, processing the medications can be very stressful on the liver, especially in individuals with compromised liver function. A course of liver-supporting herbs and nutrients, such as milk thistle, dandelion, glutathione can be helpful in supporting your body to rid the medications from your body. You may also wish to consider our Milk Thistle and activated Charcoal supplements to help absorb toxins from the body.
  • Eat detoxifying foods – beets, radishes, artichokes, cabbage, broccoli, spirulina, chlorella, and seaweed are excellent detoxifying foods. In particular, the cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts) have excellent detoxifying benefits. Another great addition is coriander, which acts as a chelating agent, expelling heavy metals and toxins out of the body.
  • Be sure to stay hydrated – try to aim for 2 litres of water per day to flush out toxins and rehydrate your cells.
  • Ensure bowel regularity – it’s important to ensure you are not constipated before any kind of surgery as toxins from retained wastes can affect recovery time. Sometimes anaesthetics and pain medications can cause constipation. To expel the toxins associated with anaesthetic, the aim is to be able to have a daily bowel movement. If you find yourself constipated, then you may wish to up your fluid and fibre intake, and also consider supplementing with magnesium citrate (300-400mg per day) to aid with gut motility. If your bowel is very lazy and you find that the magnesium citrate doesn’t help, email us for help and advice.
  • Support your gut – some of the pain medications used post-op can cause damage to the gut lining and have been linked to causing leaky gut. In order to prevent this, incorporate soothing bone broth into your diet, as this will be easy to digest, as well as providing essential amino acids to heal the gut.
  • Support inflammation – there will often be a degree of inflammation after surgery. Supporting this through diet can be really helpful. Try to mimimise inflammatory foods, such as coffee, alcohol, red meat, processed foods, vegetable oils, gluten. Try to increase your consumption of anti-inflammatory foods, such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) hemp, chia and flaxseeds, as well as increasing Vitamin C, ginger and turmeric in the diet. (Be mindful and check with your doctor before starting certain anti-inflammatory supplements such as curcumin as this is contraindicated in blood thinning medications, which may be prescribed post-op). If you don’t like the taste of oily fish, considering taking one of our high-strength Omega 3 fish oil capsules daily with food, but again, if you’re taking blood thinners, check with your GP first.

Preparing the body for surgery is just like preparing the body for pregnancy. To get the best result, in the case of surgery, a successful and speedy recovery, and in the case of a pregnancy, a trouble-free pregnancy and a healthy baby and mother at the end of it. Decades ago, GPs would advise their patients on how to prepare for surgery and likewise for pregnancy, but such advice has long since gone as healthcare has become more medicalised and less personal. Luckily, we have natural medicine practitioners like naturopaths, nutritional therapists and medical herbalists who can give such advice.

I hope you find this information useful. If you have any questions, just drop the Tummy Team an email at: