How to Heal Surgical and Other Wounds Fast with Less Scarring
© 2014 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Wounds, whether due to injury or surgery, can exact a great toll on your quality of life if they do not heal quickly and completely. And, whether you realize it or not, there’s a lot more to wound healing than Band-Aids and antibiotic ointment. In fact, to really understand the mechanisms behind how to best heal your wounds, it helps to first know a bit about how the process works at a biological level.
The Three Phases of Wound Healing
Anytime you have an injury to the skin it triggers a complex series of events at the cellular level. This prompts the three stages that will help your wound to heal properly:
Phase 1: Inflammatory
The inflammatory process begins in response to injury, and first involves forming a clot to stop bleeding (hemostasis). Then antibodies and white blood cells get to work fighting off bacteria and collagen formation begins. This phase begins when the wound is created and lasts two to four days.
Phase 2: Proliferative
During the proliferative phase collagen continues to be produced to “rebuild” the wound. New blood vessels also develop to transfer oxygen and nutrients to the tissue, supporting healing. This period can last several weeks.
Phase 3: Maturation or Remodeling
Once the wound is closed, remodeling of collagen takes place to strengthen the wound and form a scar. The number of blood vessels in the area also decreases. This phase may last anywhere from several weeks to several years.
While these phases are a reference point for proper wound healing, it’s important to know that wound healing is not always a linear process. Depending on a number of factors – including lifestyle choices, stress, overall health, etc., -- the healing process can move forward or regress backward at any time. This is why some people experience a worsening of the wound before complete recovery takes place. In some cases, wounds can also become chronic and resist healing entirely.
As researchers from the Center for Would Healing and Tissue Regeneration at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry noted in the Journal of Dental Research:
"Wounds that exhibit impaired healing, including delayed acute wounds and chronic wounds, generally have failed to progress through the normal stages of healing. Such wounds frequently enter a state of pathologic inflammation due to a postponed, incomplete, or uncoordinated healing process … Non-healing wounds affect about 3 [million] to 6 million people in the United States, with persons 65 years and older accounting for 85% of these events. Non-healing wounds result in enormous health care expenditures, with the total cost estimated at more than $3 billion per year."
What Types of Factors Influence Wound Healing?
Your body’s ability to heal wounds effectively is no different than any other bodily process in that it is significantly impacted by both internal and external factors. As researchers noted in the Journal of Dental Research:
"Many factors can interfere with one or more phases of this [wound healing] process, thus causing improper or impaired wound healing … The factors discussed include oxygenation, infection, age and sex hormones, stress, diabetes, obesity, medications, alcoholism, smoking, and nutrition."
To get more specific, the researchers found the following factors could all impact your body’s wound-healing ability:
Stress: According to researchers, “Studies in both humans and animals have demonstrated that psychological stress causes a substantial delay in wound healing.” This is a result of changes in physiological processes, as well as the potential to lead to unhealthy behaviors like poor diet, poor sleep, alcohol use, etc., which can also impact wound healing.
Diabetes and aging: These can impair vascular flow, leading to poor tissue oxygenation that causes a hypoxic, often chronic, wound.
Medications: Glucocorticoid steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen) and chemotherapeutic drugs have a significant impact on healing.
Alcohol use: Both acute and chronic alcohol consumption may impair wound healing and increase your risk of infection.
Smoking: There are over 4,000 substances in tobacco smoke, and many of them, such as nicotine, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen cyanide, may negatively impact wound healing. Studies also show that smokers take longer to heal after surgery and have an increase in wound complications, such as rupture or infection.
Nutrition: A healthy diet is essential for proper wound healing. As the researchers noted:
"For more than 100 years, nutrition has been recognized as a very important factor that affects wound healing. Most obvious is that malnutrition or specific nutrient deficiencies can have a profound impact on wound healing after trauma and surgery. Patients with chronic or non-healing wounds and experiencing nutrition deficiency often require special nutrients. Energy, carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamin, and mineral metabolism all can affect the healing process."
Tips for Healing Your Wounds Faster
Many people focus on the topical treatment of wounds as a primary part of their care, but although keeping the wound clean is important for avoiding infection, it is only part of the healing process. A systemic, body-wide approach actually works best for healing wounds, and this starts with a healthy lifestyle.
Proper Nutrition: Again, nutrition is a cornerstone of any healing in your body, including wound healing. For instance, you body uses carbohydrates as a source of energy in the healing process, and protein to help with collagen synthesis and wound remodeling. So your body will need a balanced diet, rich in protein, to best facilitate wound healing.
In a nutshell, the researchers noted:
"... proteins, carbohydrates, arginine, glutamine, polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, copper, zinc, and iron play a significant role in wound healing, and their deficiencies affect wound healing."
One key player from this list is vitamin E, which has unique wound-healing potential.
This powerful antioxidant has anti-inflammatory properties, helps stabilize cell membrane integrity, and may also decrease excess scar formation.
There are supplements called Wheat Germ Oils (they can be taken orally or punctured and applied to the skin). This oil is ideal for soothing and hydrating the skin and can also be used to moisturize scars and wounds.
Other tools that support wound healing are:
- Vitamin C Ointments that contain naturally occurring vitamin C to stimulate collagen formation, cell proliferation, cell migration and cell adhesion, all of which accelerate wound healing.
Beta-blucan Supplements stimulate fibroblast collagen biosynthesis (maitake mushrooms are one of nature's richest sources of beta-glucans)
Aloe Vera for its moisturizing, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and other properties.
Zinc Liver Chelations to stimulate re-epithelialization and reduce inflammation and bacterial growth.
Vitamin A and Vitamin C have immune modulation properties. To help gain and maintain healthy epithelial and connective tissue levels with antioxidants that support your hematopoietic system a vitamin supplement that also has carrot, Echinacea root, bovine adrenal, bovine kidney, ingredients might be ideal.
Vitamin D3 is important to support normal immune function and response needed by almost every cell in the body for development and transcription. Ideal is vitamin D supplement that contains a balanced Calcium lactate that encourages absorption and helps create markers to allow white blood cells to identify the bacterial and infectious cells that need to be eliminated for rapid recovery.
You may not associate exercise with wound healing, but it is actually very beneficial. In one study, older adults who engaged in exercise for just three months had enhanced rates of wound healing. It’s thought that exercise may induce an anti-inflammatory response that supports the healing process.
If you're looking for a natural, topical treatment to support wound healing, try honey. Honey is anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal, and all of these properties make it ideal for healing wounds. It also dries out wounds effectively because of its low water content while its high sugar content keeps microorganisms from growing. Honey also contains an enzyme that produces the disinfectant hydrogen peroxide when it touches a damp surface like a wound.
In fact, it has been used to treat burns, ulcers and other wounds for centuries.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has even approved dressings made of Manuka honey (which has a unique antimicrobial ingredient) for wound and burn treatment. Such dressings have been used successfully in wound care clinics for the treatment of chronic wound infections caused by MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Remember, if you have a wound that is not healing or appears infected, you should make an appointment with your health care provider for further evaluation.
Journal of Dental Research March 2010 vol. 89 no. 3 219-229
Advances in Skin & Wound Care. 2008 May;21(5):227-36
Annals of Plastic Surgery 2006 Feb;56(2):111-5
The Journals of Gerontology (2005) 60 (11): 1432-1436.
Papas, Andreas. “Wound Healing With Less Scarring: A Winning (Science-Based) Strategy
British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Volume 46, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 55-56