Surgery—whether it's a tummy tuck or a quadruple bypass—can really stress out a patient's body. Presurgery worry and fear may wear down a person's immunity, and going under the scalpel—or laser—can be a shock to the system. But natural-minded doctors use an array of homeopathic and herbal remedies and vitamins to help their patients make it through surgery as smoothly as possible.
Dr. Sandra McLanahan, an integrative medicine physician at the Integral Health Center in Buckingham, Va., who teamed up with her brother, Dr. David McLanahan, a general surgeon in Seattle, to write Surgery and Its Alternatives (Kensington Publishing Corp., 2002), recommends first that her patients follow a healthy, whole-foods diet to put the body in optimal shape for surgery. That means five to seven servings each of whole fruits and vegetables each day, two to three servings of whole grains, and protein from plant foods such as peas, beans and lentils. "This diet is full of micronutrients that aid in tissue repair," McLanahan says. She also suggests drinking smoothies made with a high-quality protein powder. "Your body needs extra protein when you go through surgery." And she prescribes garlic, one capsule three times a day, to help prevent infection and improve circulation.
But beyond a healthful diet, it's crucial to discuss any supplementation plans with the surgeon who will be operating. "Never do anything without passing it by your surgeon first," advises Janet Zand, a naturopath and doctor of Oriental medicine based in Austin, Texas, who also practices in California and Florida. "You have to be very careful, especially preoperatively."
That said, several experts shared their prescriptions for a successful surgery, which you can share with your customers. Just remember that supplements can interact with drugs and affect the body's blood-clotting response, for one. "Always, always stop taking vitamins and minerals four days before surgery, and don't resume until four days after surgery," McLanahan advises. Check with references, such as the American Botanical Council's The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs (Thieme, 2003), for detailed clinical overviews.
Homeopathic treatments are popular with naturopathic doctors to help patients handle two major side effects of surgery and anesthesia—pain and nausea. And most naturopaths agree that, unlike some herbal and vitamin supplements, homeopathic treatments can be taken safely right up until presurgery fasting. "The recovery from surgery is much, much faster when patients follow my homeopathic protocol," says Thomas Kruzel, a naturopathic doctor at the Scottsdale Natural Medicine & Healing Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., and a past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Homeopathic arnica is at the top of many naturopathic doctors' lists to help quell postsurgical pain. Kruzel prescribes an over-the-counter homeopathic dose of 30C as part of his standard protocol for patients undergoing surgery, starting two days before surgery and continuing for at least 10 days after surgery. "It helps with healing and really cuts down inflammation and bruising," Kruzel says. Zand recommends a combination of arnica with ledum, which also aids in healing and helps prevent infection.
Other than pain, the aftereffects of anesthesia—often described as a sort of hangover—may be the most unpleasant result of surgery. To help patients cope, naturopathic doctors often recommend homeopathic nux vomica. "Postoperatively, some people just feel crummy, they feel nauseous, they're sick. Then they take a dose of nux vomica, and boom, they're back in business," Zand says.
Anesthesia can also be tough on the liver, so some naturopathic doctors recommend homeopathic phosphorus. "It can help with liver congestion," Kruzel says.
Homeopathic staphysagria can help patients who are experiencing pain at the site of their incision, naturopathic doctors say.
A vitamin and mineral boost
Vitamins and minerals can help give the body a much-needed boost for surgery, but doctors also advise caution since some can interfere with blood's clotting ability.
Patients should supplement with B12 and B5 during preparation and recovery, Zand says. Vitamin B5 helps to support adrenal gland function, she says. "The adrenal glands can get really stressed out. People are nervous and stressed going into a surgery; supporting the adrenal glands helps diminish that anxiety."
"Vitamin C is very important in wound healing," says McLanahan, who prescribes a multivitamin to patients scheduled for surgery. Other doctors favor vitamin C as well, but some note that high amounts can thin the blood—so stick to normal doses.
"Supplementing with vitamin K—and getting plenty of leafy green vegetables—will help the blood to clot properly during surgery," Zand says.
"The trace minerals—selenium, chromium, copper, manganese and so on—all of the trace minerals are very nice, both pre- and postsurgically. It seems like every year, there's more and more information being found out about the functions of trace minerals," Zand says.
Natural anti-inflammatories can help patients recover from surgery too.
Derived from pineapples, bromelain acts naturally to reduce tenderness and swelling. Kruzel prescribes a product designed specifically for surgery patients that contains bromelain, vitamins and zinc. "It cuts down on inflammation and helps with the healing," he says. Other natural anti-inflammatories, including turmeric and cat's claw, can be helpful after surgery, Zand says.
In recent years, many surgeons have become more accepting of natural supplements and homeopathy. "Some surgeons, when they hear about natural medicines, tend to recoil. But that's changing. A lot of the plastic surgeons in our area use arnica because they have better outcomes. There are a number of surgeons we work with closely, and we even have a heart surgeon who gives us referrals," Kruzel says.
But supplements aren't the only key to getting through surgery. Most holistic doctors say it's important to go beyond pills, and work on relaxation and the mind-body connection before surgery as well. To that end, McLanahan recommends yoga as part of a presurgery regimen. Kruzel has his patients use visualization techniques, so they'll be better equipped mentally for the stress of surgery. And Zand sometimes suggests the tried-and-true soother, chamomile. "It's very important to help patients relax before and after surgery," she says.
Allie Johnson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 110, 114