Dr. C. Keith Ozaki (center) and his research team suggest that your pre-surgery diet can affect your post-surgery recovery.

Dr. C. Keith Ozaki (center) and his team suggest that a patient's pre-surgery diet can affect their post-surgery recovery.

Does it matter what a patient eats before surgery?

According to a new study led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers, the type of food that patients eat in the days leading up to surgery, as well as their long-term dietary habits, may have a significant impact on their recovery. Partners from the Center for Cancer Computational Biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and from the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health also contributed to the findings.

Specifically, the research team found that consuming a high-fat diet, as compared to a low-fat diet, leads to higher levels of post-surgical inflammation in the fatty tissue traumatized during major surgery. This inflammation, in turn, may drive complications such as heart attacks and wound problems.

The pre-clinical study suggests that patients who habitually follow a low-fat diet may fare best in minimizing post-surgical fat inflammation. Importantly, the researchers also observed that short-term behavior modification can reap benefits. Their findings revealed that in the setting of a high-fat diet, patients might significantly lower their levels of post-surgical inflammation simply by shifting to a low-fat diet for a short time frame before surgery.

These findings not only demonstrate how patient behavior can improve surgical outcomes, but also highlight what could become an area of greater focus for physicians. Aside from dietary changes, there may be other simple pre-surgical measures that could lessen the impact of trauma, accelerate recovery, and minimize complications.

“Surgeons have learned that generally minimizing trauma accelerates patient recovery from surgery,” says senior study author Dr. C. Keith Ozaki, Director of BWH Vascular Surgery Research. “While we do this well for specific organs such as the heart, blood vessels, liver, and so forth, we historically have paid little attention to the fat that we cut through to expose these organs. Our findings challenge us all to learn more about how fat responds to trauma, what factors impact this response, and how fat’s response is linked to the outcome of individual patients.”

The published study is available in the April 2013 issue of Surgery.

- Chris P

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