Why You Need Protein for Wound Healing

Understanding the “whys” of any problem can go a long way to better managing or solving it.

We often hear of the importance of advice from medical and non-medical experts when it comes to nutrition, especially when it comes to “eating healthy” and “staying hydrated”.  All well and good, but what exactly is eating healthy, or at least, how does it pertain to skin care and wound healing?

I spent over 20 years as a Certified Wound Specialist and dedicated my medical career to treating patients with complex wounds of all types.  An interesting trend I noted among my patients over the years was that no matter how healthy or overweight they were, the majority of them were malnourished.   Reviewing their lab results, typically found were nutritional deficiencies that included protein levels that were abnormally low. 

Discussions on optimizing nutrition were included in treatment plans, with recommendations of supplements a part of the typical discussion.  Here’s a simple phrase I came up with years ago to help explain to my patients, exactly what they needed to consider putting into their bodies to help expedite wound healing.  “PACE-Z”.  PACE-Z stands for Protein, Vitamins A-C-E and some Zinc.  These are the building blocks for new collagen synthesis, collagen being the key component of skin.

Proteins are comprised of amino acids and perform multiple functions within our bodies.  Functions of proteins are extensive and include structural roles during the proliferative (repair) phase of wound healing.  Without getting too scientific, intake of protein is essential not only for wound healing and new skin synthesis, it is essential for life.

It was mentioned earlier that many people do not have adequate amounts of protein in their diet or bodies.  How does one know what the proper amount required is?  It is recommended that 0.8 g protein/kilogram of body weight is needed by a health adult.  It has also been determined that elderly persons need more protein, approximately 1.0 g protein/ kilogram while persons with pressure wounds need as much as 1.5-2.0g protein/ kilogram to enhance tissue repair and wound healing.

This information may be somewhat helpful, but if more information is needed, a consult with nutritionist is recommended.  Also, intake of foods that the individual enjoys versus being on a restricted diet may require some work, but the results will certainly be worth effort.  Beans, nuts, eggs, chicken, lean beef, salmon, turkey, tuna, tofu, and milk are just some of the foods that have high protein levels and are readily available to most individuals. 

The take home message here is that chronic wounds do not usually occur in healthy people.  A wound that does not heal needs not only external care, but it needs the nutrients to heal from within.  Adequate protein must be consumed to help reduce the risk of developing wounds in high risk individuals, but must also be present to heal wounds that already exist. 

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