Heal Your Body with Food
The human body eventually heals on its own, but getting the proper nutrients can help you heal faster and more efficiently from injury. From a scientific standpoint, many body systems must intertwine and play a part to heal an injury. Biomechanical changes can affect tissue stress and strain. The nervous system provides sensory input and output to help movement patterns develop. A bioneural component is the basis for motor learning and motor control. Understanding the role of nutrition and supplements and supplying vitamins and minerals for normal body function and tissue repair is also critical.
Food First, Supplement Second
A nutritional supplement is not a magic pill that can miraculously heal injuries. But in times of physiologic stress or injury, it may be difficult to meet the body's nutritional needs through food alone. The combination of a nutrient-rich diet and supplementation creates an ideal physiologic environment for healing. When healing from injury, keep in mind the following nutrition guidelines:
- Maintain adequate caloric intake, and remember to consider changes in activity level. Your body needs a sufficient amount of calories to maintain function and support repair.
- Focus on eating whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, instead of junk food and refined carbohydrates.
- Avoid fried foods and fat condiments, which add calories without adding nutritional value.
- Focus on lean protein sources, such as fish, poultry, lean cuts of red meat, eggs and nonfat dairy products.
- Maintain protein intake that's equivalent to 1.0-1.5g/kg/d
- Eat a diet that is consistently full of colorful fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Despite efforts to maintain a healthy diet, athletes still have trouble meeting daily nutritional requirements. This is where dietary supplements and micronutrient supplements can play a role. When injured, it is even more important that the body has the tools it needs to absorb important components for healing.
Among the most common sports injuries are sprains and strains. While healing occurs on a continuum, rather than in distinct separate steps. The three stages are inflammation, proliferation (scar formation) and scar maturation. The stage of healing dictates the best treatment for a recovering athlete. The type of therapeutic environment, which includes modalities, therapeutic exercise and soft tissue mobilization, will have a significant impact on the strength of the scar that forms and on the overall outcome.
Sprains, strains, and acute joint traumas require a reduction of inflammation and healing of the tendon or ligament. A protease mixture of bioflavonoids, curcumin, ascorbates, glucosamine and chondroitin, and a vitamin/mineral/antioxidant mixture are the most effective supplements for these processes. The combination of these vitamins, minerals and enzymes may have an anti-inflammatory effect and speed the rate of healing.
Curcumin has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and vitamin C is involved in the synthesis of collagen, proteoglycans, and other organic components of the intracellular matrix. It is also a powerful tissue antioxidant and immune system booster. By stimulating articular cartilage regeneration and slowing osteoarthritic deterioration, glucosamine and chondroitin can further speed the rate of healing following injury.
The optimum external sources for enzymes, antioxidants, flavonoids and organic sulfur are raw and living foods that are not processed, dried, cooked or preserved. Cooked food is virtually absent of enzymes and may reduce the presence of antioxidants, flavonoids and sulfurs. Athletes should take enzymes 30 minutes before meals, because they are catalysts for most biological and chemical reactions in the body.
Try including these 10 foods in your diet to help reduce inflammation and help your body heal faster.
Dark, leafy greens
Dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale are packed with flavonoids, which may reduce inflammation in the brain. Good sources include spinach, kale, soybeans, berries, and tea.
This tropical fruit contains the enzyme bromelain, which can help treat muscle injuries like sprains and strains. Add pineapple to a smoothie or salad.
Flaxseed is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation. Grind flaxseed to release the oils, and then add a spoonful of it to your salad, oatmeal, or yogurt.
Orange carrots are rich in carotenoids, a group of phytochemicals that help protect cells from free radicals, boost immunity, and help regulate inflammation. Other carotenoid-rich foods include apricots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin.
Research has shown that cinnamon not only reduces inflammation but also fights bacteria, assists with blood sugar control, and enhances brain function. Sprinkle cinnamon over yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal, or add it to a smoothie.
Ginger contains several anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, which may relieve joint pain, prevent free radical damage, and increase immunity. Steep a couple of slices of ginger in hot water for ginger tea.
Try using onions as a base for soups, sauces, and stir-fries. Similar foods with anti-inflammatory benefits include garlic, leeks, and chives.
One of the richest known sources of antioxidants, tart cherries are an anti-inflammatory powerhouse. Research suggests that tart cherries offer pain relief from gout and arthritis, reduce exercise-induced joint and muscle pain, and improve inflammatory markers. Drink a glass of tart cherry juice or combine dried tart cherries with nuts for a snack.
Walnuts are loaded with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Top a salad with a handful of walnuts or eat raw walnuts as a snack.
A mustard-yellow spice from Asia, turmeric gets its coloring from a compound called curcumin. Researcher shows that curcumin can improve chronic pain by suppressing inflammatory chemicals in the body. Make a homemade curry with turmeric or mix it into other recipes once or twice a week.
Nutrition and supplements can also affect wound healing. Surgical incisions, diabetic ulcers and other wounds need an optimal healing environment. Wounds that do not heal properly pose a risk of infection and scar formation.
Most clinicians are familiar with a patient whose post-surgical incisions seem to be "scarred down," or adhered to the tissue beneath it. Tissue healing for an external or internal wound requires a balance of tissue strength and mobility.
Tissue repair responds to the stress placed on it. Cross-friction massage, progressive stretching and strengthening lead to tissue remodeling, which should establish a strong, mobile scar.
Injured skin has an increased metabolic demand and special nutritional requirements. If these requirements are not met, healing may be hindered. Several nutrients may improve healing time and wound outcome, mainly vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, glucosamine and protein. In addition to the action of vitamin C outlined above, vitamin A may enhance early inflammatory phase of wound healing and support epithelial cell differentiation.
Zinc is required for the synthesis of DNA and protein, and for cell division. Glucosamine enhances hyaluronic acid production in the wound, while protein prevents delayed healing and complications from surgery.
- Lipello, L. (2003). Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate: Biological Response Modifiers of Chondrocytes Under Simulated Conditions of Joint Stress." Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, 11, 335-342.
- Priebe, D., McDiarmid, T., Mackler, L., & Tudiver, F. (2003). "Do Glucosamine or Chondroitin Cause Regeneration of Cartilage in Osteoarthritis?" Journal of Family Practice, 52, 237-239.
- MacKay, D., & Miller, A. (2003). "Nutritional Support for Would Healing." Alternative Medicine Review, 8, 359-371.