Kinder, Gentler Surgery

Going under the knife? Lessen the toll on your mind and body before and after with these holistic approaches.

Kinder, Gentler Surgery
Pin it Matthew Wakem

The road to recovery
Pump up the protein
Lamm says it’s important to eat well, with an emphasis on protein, after surgery. “Proteins create the bonds that heal surgical wounds and provide fuel for the immune system, which will be working in overdrive to fend off infection,” he says. Just make sure it’s quality protein, Gerbstadt adds. “Beans and soy are best since they can help mobilize the GI tract, which will be sluggish if you’re on pain medication,” she notes. “Fatty foods will just clog up the works.”

Get hands-on healing Human touch can help you rest, recharge and mend, says Weil. “Consider asking for therapeutic touch or reiki, therapies that are now available at many hospitals,” he suggests. Although scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of these methods is not conclusive, Weil says the techniques are harmless and can be a powerful way to enhance mental and physical healing.

Modulate your immune system After surgery, your best bet is to support your immune system with modulating agents. “You want it to do its job but not overreact as you heal,” explains Will Foster, L.Ac., an acupuncturist, herbalist and Ayurveda practitioner in Knoxville, Tenn. “Chinese herbs can really help.” Astragalus is Foster’s go-to herb for post-surgical healing; he recommends taking 2 to 3 grams one to two times daily, in capsules or decocted as tea. Try: Mountain Rose Herbs Astragalus Root ($11 for 1 pound;

Dial down pain You will be offered pain medication after surgery, and you should take it—at least at first, Weil says. However, pain meds come with their own set of side effects and problems, affecting cognitive function, impairing memory and slowing digestion. Mind-body therapies can be very helpful in reducing the need for them, Weil says. Depending on your disposition, you might try breathing and relaxation practices; biofeedback; listening to calming music; guided imagery; and/or acupuncture, which can be so effective in relieving pain that it’s used in other countries in lieu of anesthesia. Foster also suggests another Chinese herb, corydalis, which has sedative and pain-relieving effects. He likes to use it in a formula that contains other healing herbs, such as dong quai, peony, white willow and frankincense. Try: Natura’s Corydalis Plus, two capsules two to three times daily ($42 for 90 capsules;