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Nutrition and Surgery

As many who follow me on social media will know, I took a decent hit coming off my bike earlier this year and whilst my surgeon and I did everything right, and I have regained full movement and strength we've hit a bit of a hiccup. Rather than going off to a corner to sulk, I'm going to use this as an opportunity to talk about nutrition and surgery.

Surgery is basically the antithesis of nutrition. You need only recall your last surgical experience where you were told to fast prior and how hungry you were, or the recent article in in the Canberra Times on the very dire situation that hospital food often is, in order to understand what I'm talking about here.

But it does not have to be that way. In fact the very guidelines our anaethetists practice under recommend quite the opposite of current practice. So why are we stuck in this dinosaur age? And why is what I'm about to talk about something that so many surgeons, hospitals and indeed anaethetists are not practicing?

As with most things its systemic and making changes at a systemic level is challenging at best, which is why I like to shout from the rafters about this at every given opportunity. First and foremost,  I assure you that the evidence base dates back about 20 odd years and actually does not recommend fasting in the sense that we have all become accustomed to, prior to surgery. 

Then what do the guidelines recommend with regards to nutrition and surgery?

I'm so glad you asked!

They recommend the surgical equivalent of carb loading, with fluids. Specifically, fluids designed for use prior to surgery. It's not that different to an endurance athlete really. You know your body has a challenge ahead and so you prepare it and make sure it has all of the fuel it needs to support that activity.

So how exactly does carb loading before surgery work?

When you fast, your body is in 'break down mode'. Its searching for fuel so it uses stored fuel like fat and the carbs hiding in your muscles, and possibly even a bit of muscle. Surgery then puts your body under stress, meaning its looking for even more energy. But you haven't given it any.

Simply giving your body some fuel prior to surgery can be enough to prevent muscle breakdown, reduce your chance of infection, help your wounds heal more quickly, as well as meaning you go home faster (studies show as many as 1-13 hours sooner!) and feel a lot better afterwards.

Moreover, there is a growing body of literature, including a recently published paper stressing the importance of nutrition and surgery. I'll leave a link here- unfortunately the majority of it does sit behind a paywall but it's worth putting up a link anyway.

If you are recovering from an injury and heading in for surgery, here's what I suggest

If you're headed in for surgery and you want to know how best to prepare and heal up afterwards:

  • Ask your surgeon about Dex
  • If they don't know anything about it, send them to the Dex website
  • Failing that, give me a ring, flick me an email or chase me up on social media

*Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Dex. The reason I recommend Dex above other surgical drinks is that it is:

  • Australian made
  • Not for profit
  • Cheap ($1 per bottle)
  • Readily available

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