Have a slow healing wound? You need to be eating more protein.

Have a Slow-Healing Wound? You Need to Be Eating More Protein.

Speed Your Wound Healing Without Paying an Arm and a Leg.

Frustrated with a chronic wound that refuses to close? Or stay closed? It’s time you cashed in on the power of protein.

Your body is programmed to heal, over and over again. Even in the face of diabetes and artery/vein diseases. 

So how can you speed up the body’s natural healing process? By listening to what your body is asking for. And when you have a wound, your body is craving protein.

Healing the body with food isn’t about using “natural” foods on an open wound. Raw honey, apple cider vinegar, tea bags, coconut oil, and “miracle” food don’t belong on your wound. They post a huge risk of infection and moisture imbalance, which will slow healing.

When you have a wound, the body is like a house under repair. To fix it up, you want to send in the right building materials, and enough of them.

So how does protein help as a wound healing supplement?

Proteins are the brickwork that make up your cells. They’re the key materials your body uses to build and repair tissue.1

Your body needs protein on a day-to-day basis for tissue maintenance. Cells die every day, and your body constantly needs to replace them. But when you have a wound, your body’s need to produce cells goes up. And when the body demands more cells, it demands more protein.

So what happens when you don’t change your protein intake when you have a wound?

That’s right: your body may not be able to keep up with the demand for new cells. This can lead to painfully slow wound healing. Or wounds that get worse and worse.

On top of that, diabetes creates an even greater demand for tissue repair. Diabetes is associated with muscle loss,2 even when no wounds are present. With stakes this high, a diabetic with a wound can’t afford to ignore the role of protein.

Slow-healing diabetic wounds are a huge headache and heartache. But eating more protein is one of the easiest, cheapest ways to help swing your odds of healing well in your favor!

How much protein do you need to heal a wound? 

Probably more than you’d think. 

Healing your wound is not about eating more food in general. When you repair a house, bringing in lots of materials you don’t need isn’t helpful.

For that reason, overweight and obesity are not indicators of adequate nutrition. In many cases, an overweight diabetic person with an ulcer may be malnourished.3 

Diabetics already have an increased need for protein. Insulin also promotes cell growth, so a decline in insulin (as in diabetics) is associated with a decline in cell building.4 A rise in blood sugar can also create a rise in muscle mass deterioration. 

So your house doesn’t just have a hole in it. The road that brings the construction trucks to your house has heavy traffic!

It’s time to send in some great building materials.

With increased protein needs in general, diabetics should eat at least 1g/kg of protein a day.5 When it comes to wounds, the NPUAP recommends 1.25-1.5 g of protein per kg of body weight per day.6

So what does a day with 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight look like for a 200-pound person? In plain English?

This would be about 136 grams of protein per day. Using the John Hopkins protein content chart,7 an estimated meal plan for a day could look like the following: 

A breakfast of Greek yogurt and scrambled eggs.

A bowl of chili for lunch and a side of cottage cheese. 

A chicken breast with a cup of broccoli for dinner.

A high-protein shake with peanut butter as a snack. 

What are some other protein-rich foods?8,9

Meats, like chicken, fish, pork, and beef

Legumes, like beans, lentils, and edamame

Dairy products, like yogurt, milk, and cottage cheese

Many vegetables, like broccoli, spinach, and peas

Nuts and seeds 

Peanut butter and hummus

Pre-made protein shakes

Protein powders 

Protein bars

As you increase your protein intake, balance it out by eating a variety of sources. This can help you avoid problems from eating too much of a single source protein. For example, only increasing your protein intake with cheese may result in constipation. 

Consider adding a dietician to your wound-healing journey. Putting together high-protein meals while managing your blood sugar can be challenging. A dietician would be happy to help you with your meal planning!

If you have kidney failure, discuss your meal planning with a dietician and your renal doctor. In this situation, a high-protein diet may be harmful to the kidneys.10

5 more reasons to boosting your protein intake:
  1. Affordability. Some wounds will need medications and dressings to heal, but all will need protein. Excellent sources of protein can be found for the price of a bag of beans or a fillet of fish.
  2. Accessibility. Protein can be found at virtually any grocery stores. And with such a wide variety of protein available, you’re sure to find something to suit your taste.
  3. Virtually no side effects. Compared to many other treatment options, risks for side effects are much lower. Other than specific issues like renal failure, protein benefits virtually anyone. Even if you have an allergy to a specific protein (like a peanut allergy), there are plenty of alternatives.
  4. No prescription. Many treatments involve going to the doctor, waiting for test results, then getting a prescription. But you can pick up some protein any time you want. There aren’t many diabetic wound care home remedies better than that!
  5. Backed by science. Research supports that protein helps diabetic wounds heal faster! Good nutrition has been correlated with successfully filling a wound’s depth.11 It’s also been correlated with faster healing if you have low albumin (a protein in your body) and poor perfusion.12 Meaning the more you need protein, the more likely protein supplements may help!

Healing starts at home, but working with a health care team with different specialists can dramatically improve your healing. Chronic wounds involve a breakdown in multiple systems: treating only one of these systems likely isn’t enough to manage your wound.

Don’t feel like you have to go about the wound healing journey alone! Reach out to a specialist near you, or to USC’s Southwestern Academic Limb Salvage Alliance Clinic if you’re looking for a Los Angeles podiatrist. And feel free to reach out to me (Dr. Armstrong) at armstrong@usa.net. I’m rooting for you and your healing, and I’d be happy to help you find the resources you need for your wound healing journey, worldwide!

References:

  1. Genetics Home Reference. (2002). What are proteins and what do they do? Genetics Home Reference. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/howgeneswork/protein 
  2. Hirata, Y., Nomura, K., Senga, Y., Okada, Y., Kobayashi, K., Okamoto, S., Minokoshi, Y., Imamura, M., Takeda, S., Hosooka, T., & Ogawa, W. (2019). Hyperglycemia induces skeletal muscle atrophy via a WWP1/KLF15 axis. JCI Insight, 4(4). https://doi.org/10.1172/jci.insight.124952 https://insight.jci.org/articles/view/124952
  3. Abstract : Deficiencies in Nutritional Intake in Patients with Diabetic Foot Ulcers – Lifescience Global. (n.d.). Www.Lifescienceglobal.Com. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from https://www.lifescienceglobal.com/journals/journal-of-nutritional-therapeutics/volume-5-number-4/87-abstract/jnt/2593-abstract-deficiencies-in-nutritional-intake-in-patients-with-diabetic-foot-ulcers 
  4. How diabetes causes muscle loss. (n.d.). ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190222101309.htm 
  5. Hamdy, O., & Horton, E. S. (2011). Protein Content in Diabetes Nutrition Plan. Current Diabetes Reports, 11(2), 111–119. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11892-010-0171-x 
  6. Prevention and Treatment of Pressure Ulcers: Clinical Practice Guideline. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2019, from https://www.ehob.com/media/2018/04/prevention-and-treatment-of-pressure-ulcers-clinical-practice-guidline.pdf 
  7. PROTEIN CONTENT OF COMMON FOODS Portion Size Grams of Protein. (n.d.). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/bariatrics/_documents/nutrition_protein_content_common_foods.pdf 
  8. 20 Delicious High Protein Foods to Eat. (2020, March 3). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/20-delicious-high-protein-foods#section12 
  9. 19 High-Protein Vegetables and How to Eat More of Them. (2016, March 11). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/19-high-protein-vegetables#6 
  10. What Happens If You Eat Too Much Protein? (2017). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/too-much-protein#risks 
  11. Basiri, R., Spicer, M. T., Levenson, C. W., Ormsbee, M. J., Ledermann, T., & Arjmandi, B. H. (2020). Nutritional Supplementation Concurrent with Nutrition Education Accelerates the Wound Healing Process in Patients with Diabetic Foot Ulcers. Biomedicines, 8(8). https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8080263 
  12. Armstrong, D. G., Hanft, J. R., Driver, V. R., Smith, A. P. S., Lazaro-Martinez, J. L., Reyzelman, A. M., Furst, G. J., Vayser, D. J., Cervantes, H. L., Snyder, R. J., Moore, M. F., May, P. E., Nelson, J. L., Baggs, G. E., & Voss, A. C. (2014). Effect of oral nutritional supplementation on wound healing in diabetic foot ulcers: a prospective randomized controlled trial. Diabetic Medicine, 31(9), 1069–1077. https://doi.org/10.1111/dme.12509 

Image by Daniel Tuttle on Unsplash

[While this article was written to provide helpful information, it’s not a replacement for medical advice from a doctor. Please consult your doctor before trying a new diet.]

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