Kinder, Gentler Surgery

Photography by: Matthew Wakem

Your pre-op plan
Clean up your diet It should go without saying that it’s wise to shore up your body’s resources and defenses with the most nutritious foods possible, namely fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and other minimally processed foods. New York-based integrative physician Steven Lamm, M.D., house doctor on ABC’s The View, also recommends eliminating red meat and alcohol to keep your liver functioning well. “The liver plays an important role in healing and has a big job to do to help process all the medicines you’ll be taking before, during and after surgery,” he explains, adding that you should start preparing your body for surgery weeks or months in advance if possible.

Lose weight if you need to Excess body fat has been found to increase the likelihood of surgical complications and infection, and it may slow wound healing and recovery time. (The same is true for smoking cigarettes.) So if you have time, try to drop some poundage (and kick the nicotine). Talk to your doctor about a reasonable weight-loss goal for you—this will depend both on the amount you need to lose and the urgency of the surgery. In general, work toward achieving a healthy body mass index (BMI), generally considered 25 or lower.

Keep your fluid levels high Drink lots of water, herbal teas and clear juices right up to the time when your physician tells you to stop. “Going into surgery dehydrated will increase your risk of blood clots and other serious complications,” says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D., an anesthesiologist and registered dietitian in Sarasota, Fla.

Avoid the “three g’s” Many doctors will tell you to stop taking all herbs a week or two before your surgery—but a blanket stoppage may not be strictly necessary, says Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council in Austin, Texas, and editor of the peer-reviewed quarterly journal HerbalGram. “Most surgeons aren’t trained in the field of herbs and supplements—and because there’s a lack of understanding, they take a jaundiced view,” he explains. Blumenthal does, however, advise temporarily giving up garlic, ginger and ginkgo. Their potential anti-coagulant effect could lead to excessive bleeding during surgery, especially if you’re also taking an anti-clotting medication such as warfarin (Coumadin).