4 Foods To Avoid During Wound Healing & Why

4 Foods To Avoid During Wound Healing & Why








By Philip Tajanko

FEB 16, 2023


You are what you eat, and in the case of recovering from an injury, it’s especially true. When skin is injured, the food you eat provides the nutrients necessary to aid the healing process, directly impacting the efficiency of your skin’s healing process. That’s why it’s important to avoid certain foods if your body is undergoing a wound healing process, as particular foods can disrupt the healthy balance of nutrients and proteins in your body.

How does diet play a role in proper wound healing?

As a wound heals, it goes through 3 major stages that require different nutrients in order to ensure the wound heals quickly and effectively, ideally with minimal scarring1. If these nutrients are not provided in optimal quantities, as in the case of a poor diet, then the body will struggle to repair the wound quickly. By the same token, optimizing your diet can ensure that the three phases of the healing process are completed as quickly and effectively as possible. The three stages of wound healing include:
  • Hemostasis & Inflammation - This is the period during which the area is cleaned of damaged cells, bacteria, and debris that may have fallen into the wound. If inadequate nutrition is provided, the cells responsible for repairing the wound may struggle to reach the site, and infection is more likely to develop.
  • Proliferation - During this phase, the wound begins to close, and new tissue is deposited on its surface in order to seal the wound. Without the proper nutrition or oxygen, the blood vessels and tissues of the newly-formed skin may be formed thin and weak, putting the wound at risk for tearing again. Additionally, without enough protein, the body will struggle to develop the tissue necessary to replace lost and damaged skin.
  • Maturation - This is the longest phase during which a closer-knit weave of collagen replaces the temporary collagen used during the early healing stages. This replacement ensures that the wound becomes stronger and limits the appearance of scar tissue. It requires an adequate amount of protein in order to form the amount of collagen required for strong maturation, most of which is delivered from the food you eat. As this is the final remodeling step, it can at times last for over a year.
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What foods should I avoid during the wound-healing process?

A critical part of ensuring optimal wound healing capabilities includes avoiding certain foods that could hinder your skin and immune cells’ health. These common foods all inhibit the absorption of nutrients or the synthesis of collagen and elastin, which may contribute to delayed wound healing.
  • Sugar: The number one type of foods you should limit while healing are those with a high glycemic index. Since foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can break down collagen and elastin in a process called glycation, there would be fewer proteins to be used in your skin’s healing process2.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol is another food that can slow wound healing as it blocks the absorption of many important nutrients. Specifically, alcohol impairs the absorption of proteins (which provide the necessary amino acids for collagen synthesis), vitamins such as A, C, D, E, K, and B, as well as minerals such as zinc (also important for collagen and elastin production)3.
  • Sodium-Rich Foods: Salty foods such as canned food and processed meats like bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, and ham are rich in sodium. These can be problematic for wound healing as the sodium may damage the blood vessels in and around the wound, preventing important nutrients from reaching the site4.
  • Caffeine: The intake of excessive caffeine has also been linked to decreased nutrient absorption and weakening of the skin through its diuretic effect of expelling water from the body. Thus the effect is two-fold, not enough nutrients reach the bloodstream and the supply of those nutrients to the wound is limited due to the decreased blood volume5.

What foods should I include in my diet during the wound-healing process?

During the wound-healing process, it is important to include foods in your diet that are rich in nutrients that can support tissue repair and immune function. As proteins provide the building blocks for the process of collagen synthesis, you’ll want to include protein-rich foods such as lean meat, fish, and poultry in your diet. In the cases of vegans or vegetarians, this could be supplemented by plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, and soy. Foods such as oranges, kiwi, and bell peppers which are high in vitamin C can also help to promote collagen production and support the formation of new blood vessels 6.

Eating fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly berries, plums, and leafy greens, can also provide the body with important antioxidants. These antioxidants are utilized by the skin to help protect against cellular damage caused by inflammation 7. Finally, it's important to drink enough water to ensure that your body has the necessary fluids to support adequate blood flow and hydration for the wound-healing process 8.

How do certain foods impact skin healing?

How efficiently one’s skin heals is highly dependent on the resources the body has at its disposal in order to repair the wound. Thus certain foods can have a significant impact on healing wounds due to their particular nutrient content. Nutrient-dense foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, and proteins are the best foods one could consume while recovering from an injury. On the other hand, if one consumes too much sugar, saturated fats, alcohol, caffeine, or processed food, it will likely lead to increased inflammation and decreased nutrient absorption. This decrease in nutrients reaching the wound would then lead to a longer time required for it to heal as the building blocks for new tissue take longer to reach the site of the wound.

Can foods actually speed up the wound-healing process?

Foods such as the ones listed above have been shown to contain nutrients that can support the wound-healing process, and consuming these foods as part of a healthy diet is important to provide your body with the necessary tools for wound healing9. Consuming a diet that is balanced and rich in nutrient-dense foods mostly serves to help optimize the body's natural healing process.

If this diet is more nutrient-dense than one’s regular diet, it could potentially speed up the wound healing process relative to their original diet. It's important to note that while a healthy diet can aid in the healing process, it is not the only factor and other factors such as proper wound care, consistent application of nourishing topical skin care products, and adequate rest, are also important. Since sleep is the period during which the body repairs itself from the stresses from the day, in the event of inadequate rest, your skin will suffer due to decreased elastin and collagen production 10.

Do certain foods help prevent scarring?

There is limited scientific evidence to suggest that certain foods can prevent scarring after a wound has already healed and scarred over. However, a healthy diet can never hurt, as it has been suggested that a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods may support the overall healing process. It's also important to note that in order to prevent scarring, steps to prevent further injury to the area must be undertaken as well as proper cleaning and maintenance of the wound. This can be accomplished by ensuring the wound is covered with a sterile bandage, not picking at scabs or scratching the wounds, keeping the wound clean and dry, and using a moisturizer on the wound regularly.

Key Takeaways

  • Wound-healing consists of 3 distinct stages with their own nutrient requirements.
  • Sugar, alcohol, sodium-rich foods, and caffeine should all be avoided or limited while recovering from an injury.
  • Nutrient-dense foods may support the overall healing process and potentially lead to a faster recovery time.
  • Proper hydration, wound care, and rest are just as important to a speedy recovery as a healthy diet.

By Philip Tajanko:
Philip is studying Bioengineering at the University of California - San Diego and is passionate about scientific writing and hormonal research.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470443/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9022289/
  3. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3181/00379727-166-41110
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22711274/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25041108/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18505499/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34441854/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26947692/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6429075/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20678867/
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