How Diabetes Affects Wound Healing & the Immune Response

When you live with diabetes, your health can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. Diabetes wound healing is slower than normal. You’re fighting off infections more often than most. But does it have to be this way? 

Not necessarily. 

Targeted nutrition and supplements under the guidance of a registered dietician or medical health provider can make all the difference for people with diabetes. 

But how does diabetes slow wound healing in the first place? 

And what can medical nutrition do to help? 

In this article, we’ll discuss how and why diabetes wound healing is more difficult to manage, as well as some simple nutritional changes you can make to improve diabetes wound healing. 

Why healing wounds when you have diabetes is so difficult

When not properly looked after, diabetes wound healing can become a very serious problem. 

Every day, 230 Americans have a limb amputated due to diabetic wounds that wouldn’t heal. There are scientific reasons behind slow diabetes wound healing. And proven ways to help speed that process back up.

Here are the main reasons why diabetes wound healing is a major issue for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. 

Diabetes wound healing slows due to high glucose levels

Diabetes affects your body’s ability to produce and regulate insulin, the hormone that allows your body to use glucose for energy. For people with type 1 diabetes (which is a genetic disorder) the immune system actively attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. 

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is primarily due to lifestyle, not genetics. 

The pancreas either cannot keep up with the high blood sugar levels due to poor diet and/or lack of exercise, or the body does not recognize the insulin that is being produced. 

Insulin regulates the glucose levels in your bloodstream, so when your insulin production is impaired (regardless of the type of diabetes you have), so is your ability to manage blood glucose levels. 

Unfortunately, if your glucose levels remain high for long periods of time, it also impacts how your white blood cells function.

White blood cells play a central role in your immune system. When your white blood cells aren’t able to function properly, your body has a hard time closing wounds and fighting off bacterial infections. In fact, bacteria thrive on the extra sugar content in the blood of diabetic patients, which can cause increased difficulty in treating infection.  

A 2013 study found a clear correlation between blood glucose levels and wound healing. The findings concluded that, if blood glucose levels are high, diabetes wound healing is greatly impaired. 

However, if diabetic people undergoing surgery for their chronic wounds were carefully controlling their blood glucose levels at the time of surgery, they were more likely to heal fully. 

The takeaway here? 

If you’re looking to aid in diabetes wound healing, then closely monitoring your blood glucose levels could be hugely beneficial to your body’s natural immune response. 

Diabetes wound healing slows due to poor circulation

High blood glucose levels can cause a slew of problems for people with diabetes, and one of them is circulation issues. Prolonged high blood glucose can cause arteries to stiffen and blood vessels to narrow, reducing the effectiveness of your entire circulatory system.

In fact, people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop peripheral vascular disease, which reduces the blood flow to your limbs. 

Blood circulation is critical for wound healing. 

With diabetes wound healing, it is difficult for your red blood cells to deliver the amount of nutrients needed to your extremities when your circulation is impaired. And then the site doesn’t receive proper nutrients for a faster wound healing time.

Narrowed blood vessels mean that less oxygen can reach the wound to promote healing. In addition, high glucose levels in your blood actually make the blood thicker - making it even MORE difficult for the blood to circulate properly. 

Due to the lack of oxygen and nutrients, diabetic wounds, particularly on the hands and feet, may heal more slowly - or not at all. 

Once again, the possible solution here is to look for ways to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. But we’ll help you with that in just a bit.

Diabetes wound healing slows due to nerve damage

Almost 50% of people with diabetes experience neuropathy of some kind. Neuropathy, also known as nerve damage, is caused by uncontrolled blood glucose levels. Once high blood sugar destroys your nerves, they unfortunately do not regenerate. 

This nerve damage can make diabetes wound healing more difficult for multiple reasons. 

You might not even realize you have wounds. You simply won’t feel pain if and when you get cuts, blisters, or other injuries. And because diabetic wounds take longer to heal and are more prone to bacterial infections, it can be dangerous if these wounds go undetected for long periods of time. 

Even if someone with neuropathy is aware of their wound, they might not notice signs of improper wound healing and even possible infections when they set in.

This is why it is so important to do regular body checks to look for wounds and possible infections if you have neuropathy. That way, you can take steps to aid the diabetes wound healing process as soon as possible. 

Diabetes wound healing slows due to a weakened skin barrier

Diabetes often adds another hurdle to wound healing: Research has shown that diabetes weakens the skin barrier, making you more prone to wounds. 

Hyperglycemia (having too much glucose in the blood) has been linked to multiple dysfunctions with the skin barrier. It has been shown to significantly reduce the number of cells in your epidermis, making the protective barrier of your skin much thinner. 

At the same time, hyperglycemia makes those same cells more sensitive to mechanical stress - so they are easier to tear and injure. 

Diabetes also significantly decreases the production of new skin cells. This makes diabetes wound healing more difficult when you inevitably experience trauma to your weakened skin cells. 

Luckily, these effects of hyperglycemia can be counteracted through insulin treatments and proper supplementation with the help of a medical professional. 

A note on hyperglycemia and chronic inflammation

Hyperglycemia can cause inflammation in your body. This can have a marked effect on diabetes wound healing. When your body has too many inflammatory markers, it is difficult for it to move out of the inflammation stage of healing.

It’s actually natural for your body to go through a phase of inflammation when healing a wound, but this phase usually lasts only 2 to 6 days. 

Diabetic wounds, on the other hand, can get stuck in this stage, and can’t move on to the proliferative and remodeling phases of healing. 

This results in chronic wounds, where the balance between producing collagen for new skin cells and degrading collagen (to kill off dead and wounded skin cells) is lost. These wounds get stuck in this cycle, which is one of the reasons why wounds don’t heal in diabetics. 

Diabetes wound healing slows due to reduced collagen production

Studies have shown that diabetes can cut natural collagen production almost in half. This is highly problematic. Collagen protein is the building block your body uses to create new tissues and promote healthy wound healing. 

In fact, it’s the most abundant protein in your body - and the entire animal kingdom.

Collagen holds your connective tissue structures together and keeps your skin, muscles, and organ tissues strong, elastic, and healthy. It is quite literally in every part of your body, and required for each movement you make throughout the day.

Collagen production already naturally decreases with age. Now, consider all the examples here of how diabetes may deplete your natural collagen levels even more. That means your body likely has very little - if any - extra collagen to allocate to diabetes wound healing.

Now that you know all the ways that diabetes can affect your healing and immune response, you probably want to know: how can a diabetic wound heal faster?

First and foremost, if you have wounds that are not healing because of your diabetes, it’s important to contact your doctor as soon as possible. They can help you formulate the best ways to improve your body’s wound healing response. 

Your doctor may recommend a combination of antibiotics, special diabetic wound healing products, or surgical removal of dead tissue.

Once you have a treatment plan for any existing wounds, you can speak to them about wound prevention. One method that has been recommended with astounding results is medical nutrition therapy in the form of medical-grade collagen protein supplements. 

These can be easily taken at home, under the guidance of your doctor or a nutrition specialist. 

How to support diabetes wound healing through medical nutrition

Looking at the studies we’ve cited here today, you can see that people who successfully manage their blood glucose levels are much less likely to experience severe wounds that cannot heal. 

And diet has a direct influence on your blood sugar levels. So proper nutrition is key. 

Medical nutrition therapy is a targeted diet and supplementation plan designed to help you achieve optimal health. It’s important to receive this plan from a licensed nutritionist or health provider to ensure it’s correct for your individual health needs. And it’s important to incorporate only the highest quality diabetic wound healing products and supplements.

People with type 2 diabetes can see great improvements with collagen supplements, a healthy diet, and regular exercise - and may even be able to manage diabetes without medication. 

People with type 1 diabetes can also enjoy the benefits of medical nutrition therapy, but will need to take insulin for life to properly control their blood sugar levels.

Check your carbs

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you may benefit from a controlled-carbohydrate diet. This is not to say you should cut out carbohydrates altogether. Carbs are the foundation of a healthy diet - even when you have diabetes. 

But, carbs can affect your blood sugar levels, so it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional about the specific amount of carbs you should consume each day. 

You should also choose carbs that come from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables - especially ones that are high-fiber. It takes your body longer to break down and absorb fiber, so it doesn’t cause a large spike in blood sugar like other carbohydrates might.

When you can, try to stay away from heavily processed carbohydrates which offer less nutrients and often have a high sugar content. 

Avoid added sugar

Supporting diabetes wound healing is directly tied to blood sugar levels. So it should go without saying that excess sugar should be avoided whenever possible.

This means trying to steer clear of sweetened iced tea, lemonade, soda, sports drinks, flavored yogurts, fast food, desserts, and certain breakfast cereals to name a few. 

But don’t worry, you don’t need to cut sweet foods out altogether. 

If you have diabetes, you can still indulge in the occasional dessert or sweet drink so long you don’t overindulge and eat a healthy, balanced diet otherwise. Of course, this should come with careful monitoring of your blood sugar levels, and be done in accordance with your doctor’s recommendations. 

Boost your immune system

It may be helpful to get more vitamin C and zinc in your diet to naturally boost your immune system. As an additional step, it’s recommended to take vitamin C and collagen protein together to promote absorption and reap maximum benefits of each.

Some foods that are high in vitamin C include: citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and strawberries. 

If you’re trying to get more zinc from your diet, oysters contain more zinc by far than any other food. Red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, crab, lobster, and some fortified grains and dairy products are also good sources of zinc. 

Otherwise, a zinc supplement can be a good way to ensure you’re getting enough in your diet. 

Increase your protein intake with collagen protein

Protein is crucial for your body to create new tissue cells. 

So a high-protein diet should be at the top of your list if you are trying to aid wound healing. Animal proteins will help to boost your body’s natural collagen production, which is especially important since your natural supply of collagen is depleted by diabetes. 

That being said, it can be difficult to get enough collagen protein from your diet alone. 

If you want to aid wound healing as much as possible, it’s important to find a high-quality, medical-grade collagen supplement that is easy to digest. 

When made from hydrolyzed collagen (collagen peptides) and produced by a trusted manufacturer, collagen supplements and protein drinks for diabetics are a great - if not the best - option for diabetes wound healing. 

ProT Gold collagen products have gone through the process of hydrolysis more than once to ensure that your body can gently absorb it in just 15 minutes. That means that your body will distribute the collagen to the areas of most need as quickly as possible. 

Our carefully-tested and proven collagen formula is trusted by almost 4,000 medical facilities around the country for use in medical nutrition. Doctors have used it for diabetic wound healing, to prevent future wounds, to decrease post-surgery recovery times, to promote healthy joints, and more. 

ProT Gold collagen protein supplements also come in both convenient, single-serving liquid packs and mixable powder forms. 

Whichever you choose, you’ll get the same great, highly-absorbable formula, giving you all the benefits of collagen to aid in your skin health and in diabetes wound healing.