Nutrition and Wound Healing
I was strolling along the beach in Kerala, India when I noticed a grove of papaya trees on the cliff. As I climbed up to pick a ripe papaya, a voice called from a distance, “Are you hurt? Did someone get stung?” “No, I just want to eat one,” I said to the inquiring man who emerged from the bushes. He explained that the fishermen use the papaya grove as a first aide station. Enzymes in the fresh papaya inactivate man-of-war and stingray poisons when applied to a wound. [The same enzyme makes fresh papaya a good meat tenderizer and prevents papaya jello from gelling.]
A variety of topical nutrients can help heal acute wounds. Many are fat-soluble vitamins which can penetrate the skin. Remember A and D ointment? Some cosmetic procedures include pretreatment with retinoids (vitamin A) to accelerate repair. Vitamin D helps regulate the cell growth involved in wound healing. Coconut oil and shea butter are rich in Vitamin E, which decreases damage by free radical oxidation.
Salts and minerals can also pass through the wound. Epsom Salt® soaks allow magnesium and sulfur to reduce swelling and help with tissue repair.
Naturopathic treatments for acute wounds include applying raw honey. Honey has healing enzymes like papaya and also slows bacterial growth. Honey is not used in medical settings because it can harbor botulism spores. This puts infants and anyone with a weakened immune system at risk of a potentially fatal infection.
Nourishing wounds is so effective that keeping stitches dry to prevent infection may not be worth the trade-off. A recent study (BMJ 2006 May 6; 332:1053-4) showed no difference in infection rates between wounds soaked within twelve hours and those kept dry for 48 hours. The researchers concluded, “It’s okay to get sutures wet.”
We are conditioned to treat wounds from the outside in and sometimes forget that healing occurs from the inside out. I had to apply the principles of inside-out healing to myself rather unexpectedly a few years ago, when I was bitten by a brown recluse spider. My thigh swelled to softball size shortly after I bicycled the remaining five miles to my home. The wound was too deep for topical treatments.
To treat the bite I initiated the everything-I-ever-learned approach: broad spectrum antibiotics, aspirin, hydration, Epsom Salt® soaks, deep leg massage, electric therapy (low voltage electric current is used for snake bites in field medicine), and lots of oral nutrition. Vitamin C helps make collagen and keep an alkaline pH at wound sites. Alpha lipoic acid and the E vitamins can protect nerve tissue from damage and minimize necrosis. Omega 3 fats help stabilize the cell membranes. Magnesium and potassium help minimize edema. Leafy green vegetables, stat!
My leg healed without consequence, so that some people actually wondered if I had been mistaken about the spider bite. Go figure.