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Baig Idea: Pre and Post Surgery Nutrition

Welcome to my blog. I’m Dr. Rafath Baig, Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon. This is the Baig Idea.

Today we tackle food and nutrition. We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat” or “man is what he eats.” This saying goes back to the 1800s, when French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.”  The phrase was changed in the 1920s when nutritionist Victor Lindlahr said that “Ninety percent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap food. You are what you eat.” The phrase was never to be taken literally but rather to suggest that food one eats can have a huge impact on one’s mind and health. 

There is a huge difference between “good” food vs “feel good” food. To some, “feel good” food might be the buttery, fatty comfort foods that we love to binge to make us happy, and to others “feel good” foods might be Snickers bars and toffee. But “good” food is something different entirely.  

I am a fellowship-trained board certified spine surgeon, so how am I the subject matter expert on the topic of nutrition, you ask? You are right, I do not have a PhD in nutritional sciences. However, consider this: I have had the privilege of taking care of thousands of patients in my tenure as a surgeon, and despite mastering the exacting techniques to perform highly skilled surgery, the technical aspect of the surgery is only one part of the overall game plan when it comes to a successful outcome of spinal surgery or any surgery for that matter. In essence, there is more to the care of a spinal surgeon patient than a scalpel and anesthesia. There is also the matter of pre-surgery nutrition and post-surgery nutrition. 

When your body undergoes any physical disruption or trauma, whether it’s a simple paper cut in the office, knife cut in the kitchen, or a surgical incision, your natural response is to heal that physical disruption. The fundamental building blocks to healing incisions are that various healing cells lay down proteins and amino acids as a framework for the repair of the tissue disruption. As the process continues and matures, you ultimately see the visible scar on the surface. Deep below what you can see is something of similar nature that helps heal all the fatty tissue and muscle as well.

Without a healthy robust protein-rich diet, the incision can often be compromised if not split open entirely,  rendering you likely to have a surgical site infection. And, one should prioritize more than just protein drinks and supplements – a good diet should include generally good foods like meat, nuts, dairy and eggs.  No patient at my office gets to have surgery without a complete metabolic workup. NONE! I ask each and every one of my patients to start a high protein, low carb diet as soon as I deem them a surgical patient. This starts the foundation for good diet habits that can later help with the recovery and wound healing process. This consists of a minimum of 100g of protein a day.  I also ask that they maintain this diet for at least 6 weeks post surgery.

Priming your body for surgery by changing the way you eat is one of the easiest ways you can bring your ‘A’ game to the day of surgery. This also includes being cognisant of the carb/sugar contents on the back of every package. You will be shocked by how much sugar is in everything we eat. Processed foods are often engineered to appeal to the palate and literally create the same addiction patterns that illicit drugs do. Sugars and fats hook you just as strongly as meth or cocaine. This is why it is so incredibly hard for people to succeed at dieting without help.

Esteemed studies have proven that elevated sugar levels postoperatively can also inhibit wound healing and render them as likely places for surgical site infections. 

I encourage the use of this time during recovery to start making better choices of how we eat and what we eat. There is also a huge difference between eating until we are no longer hungry and eating until we are full.

For the diabetics out there, you are listening to one. Yes, I too am diabetic. We need to be even more in tuned to what we place into our bodies. With elevated A1C levels, hospitals and insurances are now denying surgeries due to the elevated risk of the complication related to this disease process. 

In summary, what we consume can really drive the trajectory not only in postoperative recovery but our overall well being. Nutrition is often overlooked when it comes to surgery, but it plays a major role in preventing surgical site wound infections and healing. Whether you are getting ready for surgery and need pre-surgery nutritional help, recovering from surgery and need post-surgery nutritional help or simply stuck at home due to quarantine/social distancing concerns, please take this opportunity to change your eating habits. We can definitely steer these habits to more healthier options. I hope you are making the most of your time in self awareness so that we can see the better you. 

Thanks for listening, I’m Dr. Baig, and this is The Baig Idea. Be well.