Nutrition suggestions to promote recovery from surgery

Originally Published: June 22, 2001 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: August 13, 2012
Share this

Dear Alice,

Great site which I wasn't aware of when I graduated from SIPA back in '95.

I have had spinal cord surgery for removal of a tumor. Now, a year later in continuing rehab, are there any vitamins, supplements, specific foods I should be eating to rebuild my CNS?

—Columbia Alumnus

Dear Columbia Alumnus,

Several nutrients are important in supporting a healthy central nervous system (CNS). Your best bet is to get these nutrients through food, as there is no evidence that taking large doses of nutritional supplements will speed your recovery. Key nutrients include:

Nutrient Action(s) Good Sources
Vitamin A Helps maintain nerve cell sheaths Fortified dairy products
Beta-carotene (which is converted to vitamin A) Helps maintain nerve cell sheaths Spinach, dark leafy green vegetables, broccoli, deep orange fruits and veggies (apricots, cantaloupe, squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin)
Thiamin Supports nervous system function Pork, ham, liver, whole grains, legumes (beans and peas), nuts
Niacin Also supports a healthy nervous system Milk, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, whole grain and enriched breads and cereals
Vitamin B12 Maintains the sheath that surrounds and protects nerve fibers and promotes their normal growth All animal based foods; for vegans, fortified soy milk or yeast grown in a vitamin B12 rich environment are recommended
Copper Helps form the protective covering of nerves Grains, nuts, meats, seeds, some drinking water

After surgery, eating properly can help with the recovery process. Obtaining adequate calories and protein is vital. Protein is extremely important for recuperation. Not only is it required for fighting infections, it is the backbone for repair and maintenance of many crucial tissues in the body. In addition, protein is vital for building collagen, which is necessary for scar formation.

In addition, plasma proteins, formed from dietary proteins, maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.

Other important nutrients specific to wound healing include:

Nutrient Good Sources
Vitamin C Citrus fruits, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, dark green vegetables, cantaloupe, strawberries, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, papayas, mangoes
Zinc Meat, fish, poultry, beans

A person with post-surgery complications or depleted nutrition stores needs more calories and protein than s/he did before the procedure, regardless of his or her weight. A higher caloric intake also increases the need for B-vitamins. Supplements usually are not necessary since these nutrients are found in a wide array of foods.

As there are no supplements that are recommended for enhanced recovery, get your nutrients from a well-balanced eating plan, rich in a variety of fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, and lean proteins, such as lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Happy healing!

Alice