Diet plays a huge role in our body’s ability to perform almost any task and healing is one of the more labor-intensive among them. What’s more, nearly everything the body does can be enhanced by appropriately rationing the right nutrients in the right quantities. But a part of having a well-rounded, intentional diet is thinking just as much about what you put into your body as what you don’t - or in this case, when you don’t.
So we’re asking and answering some questions like, do wounds heal faster when fasting? Or are fasting and dieting harmful for healing?
While we’d love to provide you with a short answer, the real answer to: “do wounds heal faster when healing?” depends on a variety of factors. Because of this, it’s worth diving deep into studies on the topic.
We hope that after reading this article, you will be able to make an informed decision about whether you should try fasting after surgery or not, because intermittent fasting and healing isn’t always straightforward, nor a one-size-fits-all situation. Of course, any major diet changes for health purposes, such as fasting after surgery, should get approval from your doctor or nutritionist first. That being said, reading up on the topic can help you understand the questions you should ask at your next consultation.
So do wounds heal faster when fasting or not? Let’s take a look at the basics of fasting, the best wound healing diet options, and whether or not fasting can help speed wound healing.
A quick guide to fasting
Many people who eat a traditional Western diet haven’t considered fasting as a viable lifestyle choice. We get hungry, so we simply eat. But with a swathe of advocates around the world, perhaps it’s best to understand the excitement surrounding fasting.
While most traditional diets look at “what” we eat, fasting is all about “when” we eat.
Fasting, abstaining from some or all kinds of food or drink, is a common religious practice and spiritual practice and can be quite strict and challenging. In recent years, the benefits of intermittent fasting have expanded beyond one’s beliefs and gotten a spotlight in more mainstream health, fitness, and diet cultures.
There are many kinds of fasting and reasons for doing so, many of them being quite moderate and simple to implement. For our purposes today, we specifically want to look at intermittent fasting in regards to healing.
Intermittent fasting is the term used to refer to shorter periods of time during the week or within a day where an individual does not eat. For example, they may choose to eat in an 8 hour window of the day, but abstain from food for the other 16 hours.
Another type of intermittent fasting is the 5:2 intermittent fasting diet. This type of fasting is often used by people hoping to lose weight.
How does it work?
Choose 2 non-consecutive days of the week and fast on those days. For the other 5 days, eat sensibly. Focus on nutrient-dense meals and standard portion sizes. The rules are simple and easy to follow. If you’re considering fasting after surgery and wondering if your wounds heal faster when fasting, this might be worth asking your doctor about.
The problem with many diets, such as this or, say, a plant-based diet and wound healing, is that the body needs a higher overall quantity of calories and protein intake during healing.
This is where we get into grey territory. Because fasting isn’t usually (or doesn’t have to be) about restricting the quantity of food that we eat. Instead, its focus is on giving your digestive system regular breaks and making the allocation of resources more efficient.
The purpose of intermittent fasting
People choose to start intermittent fasting for a variety of reasons. Some of the claimed benefits of intermittent fasting include:
- May boost mental clarity and focus
- May reduce tissue damage during surgery
- May improve blood pressure and reduce resting heart rate
- May help people easily reach and maintain a target weight
- May help provide time for the body to naturally detox each day
- May be more natural to the human condition
- May promote and support your preferred lifestyle or fitness routine
- Intermittent fasting for athletes in particular may support their weight loss and performance goals
Knowing all this, people are are also asking: do wounds heal faster when fasting? So let’s consider these points a bit more.
Humans were hunter-gatherers long before we were 9-5ers. Hunter-gatherers didn’t have the luxury of knowing where 3 meals a day and constant snacks were coming from. Fasting wasn’t a lifestyle choice, it was the norm.
The human body specialized itself for many many years within fasting conditions, which were very different from the conditions of today’s world.
Looking deeper into the science, fasting aims to give the body a break from constant digestion. If the option to dedicate energy to digestion is temporarily unavailable, cells become forced to resort to other means and materials to produce energy.
Cells begin to strip themselves for parts, a process called autophagy, often starting with diseased or damaged areas. Burning these areas for energy creates a detoxing win-win situation that the body wouldn’t be able to benefit from if it were continually digesting.
So, if fasting may be able to detox the body, and draw energy away from digestion and towards other important body processes, you can start to see how fasting might affect the healing process. But do wounds heal fasting when fasting? It’s time to look into the science behind the specific claims of intermittent fasting and healing.
Do wounds heal faster when fasting?
Digesting food is a net energy gain for your body, but from time to time it can be more beneficial to clear out the reserves you already have. While fasting, the body can allocate the energy that it has to the job of wound healing.
In this case, maybe wounds do heal faster when fasting.
What does the science say about if wounds heal faster while fasting? Let’s look into studies that were also inspired by the question “do wounds heal faster when fasting?”
An argument for fasting
Let’s start with this study from 2011 that looked into wounds caused by chronic diabetic ulcers, an ever-present clinical challenge.
After controlling the feeding habits of mice, the study suggested that fasting combined with refeeding (rather than solely fasting) facilitates neovascularization and rapid wound healing.
What is being suggested here? A couple of interesting takeaways for those asking “Do wounds heal faster when fasting?:
A period of time where the body does not need to allocate resources to digestion appears to allow a more concentrated general energy focus on wound healing.
- Refeeding provides a better overall recovery rate than pure fasting. The body will slow down wound healing when resources are depleted.
So, do wounds heal faster when fasting? The science in this study says it is possible, and merits consideration.
However, given the huge number of variables in types of wounds (in this example, diabetes wound healing in particular), and the types of fasting available, it’s best to get approval from a medical professional before you start fasting. And it’s important to carefully consider what you’re nourishing your body when you break that fast. For example, certain supplements like medical-grade collagen for wound healing, have been proven to be both easy on the digestive system (great for breaking a fast) and cut wound healing time in half.
Now we must highlight that, in some situations, wounds do not heal faster when fasting.
An argument against fasting
NFL quarterback Alex Smith regularly used intermittent fasting because he believed it helped him make better snap decisions on the field. Then, a serious leg injury motivated a major change in his life.
After Alex Smith suffered that leg injury, he was advised by doctors and nutritionists to stop intermittent fasting.
Why? He wasn’t getting enough nutrients to promote proper wound healing. Because of this, his injury and subsequent infection became life-threatening.
So do wounds heal faster when fasting in all cases? No.
For serious or chronic wounds, fasting may be more of a risk than a solution. You don’t want to put your body in a position where it doesn’t have the resources to take care of itself. In Alex Smith’s case, even though his body was well accustomed to fasting, the medical opinion he received was that wounds do not heal faster when fasting.
In yet another study on fasting later in life, some promising conclusions were made that fasting may help to extend life expectancy. Unfortunately, that very same study noted that fasting would slow wound healing in a situation where the individual is recovering from an injury.
Perhaps the answer there is to let your body fully recover and then consider implementing fasting after the fact.
So what are we to make of this information? Do wounds heal faster when fasting or not? When is fasting beneficial or harmful for your body? To continue answering these questions, it’s important for you to understand what the wound healing process entails.
The wound healing process
Wound healing is an energy intensive process. Although a patient may be bedridden and immobile for a period of time after a surgery, the caloric demands of the body actually increase rather than decrease.
The conditions and resources for wound healing play a major role in how long wound healing takes. For example: Wounds heal better in a moist environment, which answers the question, do wounds heal faster covered or uncovered?
Wound healing also doesn’t take place all at once - it’s a highly delicate and intricate operation. Each of the four stages of wound healing requires the right energy and nutrients to work smoothly. The stages are:
- Hemostasis: Blood at the wound site coagulates to form an emergency barrier between your insides and the outside.
- Inflammation: The wound site is cleared of invading microorganisms that could cause infection, clearing the site for future collagen wound healing.
- Proliferation: Soft tissue collagen protein rejoins layer by layer to form a more permanent closure of the wounded area.
- Remodeling: Collagen is reinforced and the wound recovers the majority of its previous tensile strength.
Although it may be easy to imagine that a healing process reaches a conclusion in the remodeling phase, it is actually worth noting that the human body has to upkeep a scar to stop it from deteriorating.
To reknit your body together, and to keep it strong and stable, your body uses collagen protein. Unfortunately, your natural collagen production slows down as you age, and you might not be getting enough for adequate wound healing from your diet alone - especially if your eating window has been decreased with fasting.
This slow depletion of collagen levels over time could be why older patients struggled more with wound healing while fasting in the last study.
It’s important to nourish your wounds all throughout the healing process. But how do you nourish the process well enough that wounds do heal faster when fasting?
Properly feeding the wound healing process
Fueling your body with vital resources like liquid collagen and collagen-boosting vitamin C, is a great strategy to help you sail through each stage of wound healing healthily. We’ve just stressed the importance of adequate nutrient intake multiple times and mentioned the extra work your body is putting in to help you recover.
At this point, the question: “do wounds heal faster in a caloric surplus?” has probably come up as well.
A caloric surplus is indeed recommended by many doctors and nutritionists to support the demands of wound healing, with a specific focus on protein.
Your body can and needs to break protein in your diet down and use it in collagen synthesis for wound healing.
Should you fast after surgery?
The concern over malnourishment is both the benefit and the curse of fasting. Placing the body in a position where it begins to detoxify itself for fuel is a desirable, and entirely possible, outcome.
The disadvantage is just how well that translates to a wound healing scenario.
Advocates of fasting may counter this claim by stating that, when fasting effectively, the recommended caloric intake can still be met. Remember fasting is meant to make digestive periods more efficient.
Post surgery or injury is certainly not the time to try dieting, but dieting and fasting are different concepts and shouldn’t be confused.
Dieting reduces a daily caloric intake. Intermittent fasting controls the timing of your caloric intake. So while dieting doesn’t help wounds heal faster, you may still help wounds heal faster when fasting.
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough conclusive evidence to answer the question: “do wounds heal faster when fasting?” Some studies claim that wounds do heal faster when fasting, while others claim that wounds do not heal faster when fasting.
As more studies about this popular and sometimes controversial topic make their way online, we will learn more about if wounds heal faster when fasting. For the moment, the wealth of information on both sides suggests that the individual conditions of the wound play a big role in whether fasting is a good idea or not.
Choosing to try intermittent fasting for wound healing is an entirely personal decision, but it should be overseen and agreed to by your medical health provider for your safety.
How to safely speed wound healing
Even though we couldn’t conclusively answer: “do wounds heal faster when fasting?”, we do know this - having a large quantity of protein in your diet is key to wound healing.
If you’re searching for a safe way to speed up your healing process, you may want to look into wound healing supplements, such as medical-grade liquid or powder protein.
ProT Gold collagen products are proven safe to use both for medical nutrition purposes and as a daily supplement. Taking collagen protein every day may help ease you through your healing process, decreasing swelling, promoting faster recovery, and reducing future wounds (in the case of those with diabetes). In fact, our supplements are trusted and used by thousands of medical facilities across the United States in order to do just that.
Your body needs all the collagen it can get to create new soft tissue, and providing it with extra collagen during healing may make the proliferation and remodeling phases of healing go much more smoothly.