One of the most amazing aspects of the human body is its ability to heal itself. There are 30-40 trillion cells in the human body, and every second that we’re alive, these cells work tirelessly to achieve equilibrium, keeping us at—or bringing us back to—a natural balance. When we abuse our bodies or become ill, cells can be damaged or destroyed, sometimes in large quantities. However, these cells have the ability to heal or replace themselves, all to keep the body functioning at optimal levels.
Cell Repair Following Injury
There are many examples of how the body repairs itself; the liver regenerates; intestines regenerate their lining; bones grow back; lungs repair after quitting smoking; and more. But probably the simplest example of cell repair is demonstrated through a bleeding injury. Following an injury in an otherwise healthy body, blood vessels at the site contract to slow the bleeding, while blood platelets begin clumping together to form a clot to stop the bleeding. Once the clot is in place, blood vessels reopen a bit to allow the necessary amount of oxygen back into the wound for healing.
Next, white blood cells begin digesting dead cells in order to make room for new cells to form. They also fight infection and oversee the repair process. In the rebuilding process, oxygen-rich blood cells arrive to build new tissue by creating collagen (you usually see the result of this process as a scar that starts out red and dulls over time). Over time, the new tissue gets stronger until the process is complete.
Patient Factors Affecting Wound Healing
While the body’s ability to heal itself is truly impressive, there are still a number of patient factors that can affect the process. For example, on elderly patients, skin and muscle tissue have generally lost tone and elasticity and their circulation may be compromised, lengthening healing time (poor circulation in the extremities can also slow healing time in diabetic patients). For obese patients, the risk of postoperative complications is higher because excess adipose tissue, or fat, at the wound site does not have a good blood supply, making it more vulnerable to trauma or infection.
The diet of a patient can also affect wound healing, regardless of a patient’s weight. If they are lacking in carbohydrates, proteins, zinc, and vitamins, healing may be delayed because collagen synthesis—the building blocks for wound healing—won’t happen properly. Dehydration, which causes an electrolyte imbalance, can also decrease oxygenation to the tissues, which is needed to promote natural healing.
Chronic diseases can also pose healing challenges because the immune system functions at a lower capacity, making patients more susceptible to infection. Patients who have taken steroids, have undergone chemotherapy, or who are infected with HIV also have compromised immune systems.
Assisting the Body’s Healing Process
Despite the bodies amazing self-healing abilities, sometimes it needs a little help. We can provide this help in a number of ways. Here are three of the best ways to give our body an assist.
Maintaining a Proper Diet
Eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet can go a long way toward helping our bodies maintain their natural balance. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) highlights a healthy eating plan, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, as a balanced diet that focuses on whole grains, lean meats, fish, eggs, poultry, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and fat-free/low-fat dairy products. And, people are taking note. According to a new study, American adults are improving their diets by increasing the amount of high-quality carbohydrates, plant proteins, and polyunsaturated fats they eat, while cutting down on the “low-quality’ carbohydrates they eat. That’s good news for their bodies, as a proper diet has been shown to greatly improve the healing process following injury or surgery. Be sure to check out our story, 8 Powerful Foods That Can Help You Heal After Surgery.
A balanced exercise routine involving aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility training can help your body ward off disease, fight infection, and heal faster following injury or surgery. Now only does it help keep your body at a healthy weight, it conditions the body’s cardiovascular network and lowers the risk of certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. As the body ages, exercise during your younger years also reduces the chances of osteoporosis, the weakening of the bones. If you’re going to be having surgery, be sure to check out our story on “pre-hab,” exercises you can do to prepare the body, and if you’re in the post-operative phase, be sure to read Dr. Brian Cole’s story, Working Out and Getting Back to the Gym After Surgery.
Getting Enough Sleep
The CDC recently revealed that as many as two-thirds of all Americans don’t get enough sleep, which plays a crucial role in your body’s ability to heal itself. The body works endlessly to repair and regenerate itself, and a lot of this happens when we are sleeping. When we’re at rest, our body’s energy is being used minimally just to sustain involuntary functions such as heartbeat and breathing, which allows the body to direct more of its energy to restorative and healing processes. It can be difficult with our hectic lifestyles, but the CDC says adults should try to get eight hours of sleep per night; for children, 11-12 hours is optimal.
Wound Closure to Assist the Healing Process
As described earlier, the body gets to work repairing itself immediately once the skin has been compromised. That’s great for small cuts and lacerations, but for larger wounds and incisions, help is often needed in the form of various wound closure methods, such as stitches or staples. However, neither of these methods offer a truly “natural” approach to healing as they both introduce foreign items into the body. The materials that sutures are made from, including animal protein, can increase the risk of infection on some individuals. Staples fare even worse; when researchers analyzed the results of six trials, comparing both methods following surgeries in over 680 adults, they found that the risk of developing a superficial wound infection was over three times greater after staple closure than suture closure.
Today, there is an alternative to traditional sutures and staples, which gives the body an assist but allows it to heal on its own without introducing foreign material: BandGrip. The BandGrip application resembles a typical adhesive bandage but uses unique, patented micro-anchors to grip the skin tightly and hold wound edges together securely. This allows the body to begin repair on its own, without stitching or stapling. BandGrip can be tiled for larger wounds and incisions, and also offers many other advantages:
- Faster and easier application versus sutures and staples.
- Eliminates the risk of needlestick injuries.
- Results in less scarring than sutures or staples.
- Supports better mobility due to its smooth, water-resistant surface.
- Does not require a return visit for removal.
Learn more about the power of BandGrip and how it can help you heal more naturally following surgery here.