Healing through Nutrition, Pre and Post Surgical Recommendations

As most of you know, I am a sports nutritionist. I spend most days assisting athletes with their endurance training and sports nutrition. I am a firm believer in you are what you eat, crap in, crap out and think about food as fuel for your body. In order to perform the best, you need to put good things in your body. Everything in moderation of course, but on a whole, nutritious veggies, fruits, grains, lean meats, nuts, legumes, etc. Meat isn’t needed, but I’m not giving it totally up. You can if you’re so inclined though. Eat everything that provides the proper macronutrients, micronutrients, antioxidants and more. So if the proper nutrition can fuel your everyday life and athletic endeavors, why can’t it help you heal? In fact it can.

I am a big evidence based/scientific research first nutritionist. Before I will really dive head first into something, I like to at first research the food, diet, way of eating, then try it on myself. Kind of an n=1 experiment. I’ve done this with the high carb diets ( 1990’s),  The Zone diet (early 2000’s) the Paleo diet (mid-2000’s), Intermittent fasting (late 2000’s) and finally, just basic good nutrition focusing on whole foods. In addition, using spices and herbs to supplement my diet.

Before surgery I was under a lot of stress. Between the nerves of the actual surgery, wondering if it would work, worrying about nerve damage, thinking I wouldn’t be myself for a year, that I actually didn’t do a good job at preparing myself from a nutritional standpoint. I was eating a mostly vegetarian whole plant-based diet, with occasional lean meats, fish and healthy fats, however I didn’t focus enough on what I should have been doing. So now I’m here to share this, so if you’re going to have surgery or just had surgery, read on. Also, if you’re just looking for an anti-inflammatory diet (that still includes grains and dairy-these cause inflammation if you have issues digesting them. If not, you are fine with whole grains and dairy and I will continue to teach to use them) read on.

Exercise, especially vigorous or strenuous exercise causes physical stress on the body. We actually need some of that stress to adapt to exercise, and to make us better. It’s one reason I don’t advocate mega dosing with antioxidants. In addition, there are other stressors that can create both hormonal and immunological responses that are similar to exercise. When scientists study inflammation, they generally look at an increase in inflammatory cytokines (IL-1, and TNF-a production among others). These can be increased following surgery or trauma as well.

So, knowing that surgery creates more inflammation, how can we do about it. Below I’ve listed some of the things that I do daily, weekly or have tried. When I started writing this blog I realized it would take me hours to speak on each one. So instead I thought I’d start by listing them, then writing on them one by one. I’ve already written on Omega 3’s, which can be found here. This is not a complete list, and by no means do every one of them have 100% definite evidence that they will assist you. It’s more that they have some good evidence that they might help you, with little risk of toxicity. So, other than money, why not try them.

Here is what I supplement my daily/weekly diet with:

  1. Curcumin/Tumeric (daily, 1000mg mixed with pepperine/black pepper)
  2.  Omega 3 Fatty Acids (daily, 800mg EPA, 400mg DHA)
  3. Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate (daily, 2 tbsp)
  4. Ground chia/flax seed (daily, 2 tbsp)
  5.  Ginger (weekly, 1 tsp fresh)
  6.  Cinnamon (weekly, 1 tsp ground)
  7.  Collagen/Gelatine (weekly, 2g of gelatine, however I might switch to daily soon-there’s some cool new  research out)
  8. Bromelain (weekly, 1 cup of pineapple in a smoothie)
  9. Garlic (daily-weekly-I could with it almost daily, but don’t go out of my way to supplement)

In addition to all of that (which Brett jokingly says I’m a pill popper for doing), the right nutrition will provide anti-inflammatory benefits. I’m a big believer in the Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes whole grains, beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats (like olive oil) and small amounts of meat, mainly fish. This diet has been known to be very beneficial to reducing inflammation, one reason being the heart healthy fats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Things like processed foods, white sugar (unless you’re training for long distance events), and certain types of saturated fats can increase inflammation.

What about Glucosamine/Chondroitin? There is pretty strong evidence that it isn’t beneficial to humans, however I have heard anecdotal evidence. So, if you’d like to try it, there isn’t a great risk.

How about Matcha? Matcha is a ground green tea powder. It is loaded with antioxidants and I’ve been tempted to try it in a morning smoothie. I’m not a coffee drinker, however a caffeine boost in the morning can be a good thing.

Fermented Foods? Well, fermented foods are awesome probiotics. And they have been known to reduce inflammation of the gut/GI tract. This isn’t exactly what we want for surgical inflammation, however it’s great if you are having GI issues, or just want the benefit from probiotics. I wrote about that here.

All in all, there is a ton of foods, herbs, spices, etc that have great healing properties. I don’t think we should overlook them and solely rely on Western drugs. I am a big believer in Western medicine, don’t get me wrong. I just believe that we can receive benefit from other areas as well.

While I may be an herbal pill popper, my goal is complete recovery. Some days it seems farther away then others, but I know I will get there. So I’ll continue my journey and continue to provide you with what I’m learning. And there is a lot to learn.

Coming up soon I’ll touch on each of the supplements I’m taking, and the evidence with them. I do have some exciting personal news that I’m getting ready to share…maybe tomorrow. And no, I’m not pregnant…yet 🙂









  • By Faith - on

    Great post Cristina! I supplement too: gelatin, lots of herbs and spices, oils, silica, and a hammer product called tissue rejuvenator. I am and have been for many years an herb lover. I grow many and all are medicinal. I have been making medicines since I have had children. I also use and respect western medicine in addition to herbal remedies and folk medicine…curanderismo. I have always appreciated your expert nutritional advice to eat healthy foods that work for my body. I am so excited to hear your news tomorrow!!!!

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