Updated on March 27, 2023
From major operations to minor outpatient procedures, surgery is ubiquitous in modern medicine. Unfortunately, even the least invasive surgeries are hard on the body. Even surgeries with local anesthesia leave behind wounds that take time to heal. For more serious surgeries, patients are heavily medicated with sedative and analgesic drugs and experience substantial tissue damage. Without any complications, a major surgery still causes blood loss, trauma, and a prolonged period of chemical washout after the procedure ends.
For most patients, the surgery itself is the easy part; the challenges usually begin when they enter the postoperative recovery period, particularly if they struggle with the therapeutic coverage and side effects of postoperative medications. But they don’t have to. For many patients, these struggles can be eased by post-op recovery supplements that can help normalize the body’s inflammatory response.
Inflammation commonly crops up in the postoperative environment with symptoms like painful swelling, redness, and heat at the site of wounds. Recently, researchers have started to consider inflammation as a systemic phenomenon that can cause wide-ranging problems. Even when far from a surgical site, inflammation can hamper the operation of the brain, and, when paired with the toll that anesthesia takes on the brain, might even be temporarily debilitating. For example, patients often experience a variety of mood issues after surgery, which might in part be caused by excess inflammation. Thus, normalizing the body’s inflammatory response is a major factor influencing the rate at which patients recover from surgery.
Many surgeons recommend commercially available non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) for use after discharge. Although these medications are effective at reducing inflammation to safe levels, patients who still have residual pain might end up taking more than is safe, potentially compromising their health. NSAIDs are known to cause ulcers when used in excess, and in severe cases could even degrade the integrity of the colon. Additionally, even when taken in therapeutic quantities, NSAIDs can slow wound healing and thin the blood, which makes them an imperfect solution at a time when healing is paramount. Therefore, although these medications are ubiquitous among postoperative therapies, many patients are still searching for complementary therapies that don’t cause uncomfortable or counterproductive side effects.
Aside from the medications suggested by doctors, patients also commonly turn to ice packs to calm inflammation and provide pain relief. Application of ice shrinks blood vessels, which inhibits swelling. When used for too long, however, ice packs can cause damage of their own or inhibit wound healing. Furthermore, the packs can’t be kept on the patient 24/7; there’s a large amount of therapeutic “downtime” during which patients aren’t able to use the therapy. As such, ice packs are often insufficient to relieve patient discomfort.
Due to the shortcomings of standard inflammation control, both patients and practitioners are increasingly looking toward achieving postoperative symptom relief from the nutritional support provided by supplements.
Evidence suggests that restoring the body’s normal inflammatory response postoperatively can be achieved by a natural compound.* That compound is butyrate, also known as butyric acid, a physiological molecule produced by the cells of the large intestine. In the large intestine, butyrate is responsible for regulating cellular behavior, maintaining normal inflammatory responses in the gut, and helping immune cells manage the gut microbiome. Butyric acid has also been identified in a research review as helping to prevent the translocation of harmful bacteria from the intestines to the bloodstream.
In the review, researchers noted that daily supplementation with a small quantity of butyric acid peaked the proliferation of cells responsible for maintaining a normal inflammatory response in the gastrointestinal tract by 60 percent.* This means that more of those cells were present in the GI tract, increasing the overall beneficial response to inflammation.* When recovering from surgery, these additional cells could help the gastrointestinal tract return to its normal function much faster than it otherwise would. According to the authors, this means that approximately 66 percent of elderly people with gastrointestinal issues would benefit from butyrate supplementation.
The applications of butyrate in the postoperative environment are likely beneficial to patients struggling with recovery issues, and large clinical trials demonstrating this impact are forthcoming. Investigations into the tolerability of butyrate are promising, with several studies reporting no adverse effects among participants. Additionally, butyrate is, in principle, compatible with other supplements that can be used in a postoperative environment; supplements like fish oil are natural companions to butyrate when it comes to achieving postoperative symptom relief*.
Fish oil is widely recognized as having proven applications in postoperative inflammation. A 2012 study examining the impact of fish oil administration on postoperative outcomes found that patients who received fish oil experienced 33.3 percent reduced liver dysfunction caused by inflammation and 27.8 percent fewer infections. Furthermore, the patients who were supplemented with fish oil exhibited lower levels of a wide swath of proinflammatory molecules. These effects are due to the presence of compounds called eicosanoids that behave as cellular signaling molecules. Although the study wasn’t blinded or controlled, the data are unambiguous: fish oil is effective in reducing postoperative inflammation.
In normal therapeutic quantities, fish oil results in no side effects. However, when taken in excess, the vitamin A present in fish oil can cause vitamin A toxicity. Although this toxicity can cause brittle bones and liver malfunction, it is very rarely a result of fish oil consumption. As such, fish oil is considered to be a safe and well-tolerated supplement with broad appeal. But it has newer challenges, including tetrahydrocurcumin, a particularly promising solution returning the body’s inflammatory response back to post-surgery normalcy.*
Tetrahydrocurcumin is a member of the curcuminoid class of compounds that are derived from the turmeric root. Curcuminoids have a history of medicinal use going back thousands of years, and modern research has found them to be a compelling avenue of investigation owing to their ability to support the body’s natural inflammatory response.*
This ability to support a healthy response to inflammation is especially pronounced in the case of tetrahydrocurcumin because it more efficiently down-regulates proinflammatory genes than other curcuminoid types.* One in vitro study found that a mix of curcuminoid compounds containing predominantly tetrahydrocurcumin down-regulated the activity of a gene coding for a critical proinflammatory molecule by 85 percent. The gene, NF-kB, is one of the core molecules the body uses to signal cells to initiate inflammation. Importantly, in 2018, an in vivo study found that tetrahydrocurcumin limited the production of NF-kB molecules by as much as 90 percent depending on the amount of tetrahydrocurcumin consumed. Furthermore, tetrahydrocurcumin can down-regulate the production of another proinflammatory molecule known as COX2.* As a result, tetrahydrocurcumin holds significant potential for reducing patient discomfort in a postoperative environment.*
Providing nutritional support from safe and effective nutritional supplements that help restore the body’s normal processes for responding to inflammation would be very useful for postoperative patients, potentially addressing an array of postoperative challenges.
Many medications administered during surgery conducted under general anesthesia have an array of side effects, including constipation. These medications include antibiotics, analgesics, sedatives, anxiolytics, and muscle relaxants.
Of these drugs, all but anxiolytics have the potential to negatively impact the gastrointestinal system in the short term by slowing it down or stopping its activity altogether. Doctors compensate for the impact of these drugs by limiting patients to certain kinds of foods before and after surgery, but by the time patients are discharged, there are still traces of the drugs impacting their systems. When paired with postoperative pain management, gastrointestinal issues are some of the hardest to resolve and are highly unpleasant to patients.
Gastrointestinal tract issues often persist well after the patient leaves the hospital; constipation is all but assured from the surgical medicine regimen and the tools that patients receive to control pain at home can make the problem worse. In particular, nearly all but the most minor surgical procedures can involve operative and postoperative administration of opioid painkillers. Opioids are notorious for reducing intestinal motility, diminishing intestinal energy usage, and subsequently inhibiting normal bowel movements. To make matters worse, the typical nutritional aids to help patients with bowel movements might not be accessible while recovering from surgery. Coffee or green tea, for example, might be prohibited after surgery due to their stimulating properties. Likewise, fiber-rich foods, like lentils, might be restricted until the patient’s gastrointestinal tract has recovered. This is where butyrate can again play a significant role.
Today, a growing number of patients are using butyrate as a powerful tool in the face of postoperative constipation owing to its ability to promote a healthy gut microbiome.* According to Polish researchers, butyrate effectively addresses constipation.* In the study, the researchers administered small quantities of butyrate to patients with constipation during a 12-week period. After four weeks, stools in the patients who received butyrate were consistently textured twice as much than the control patients, and patients who took butyrate reported 69 percent less discomfort.* Furthermore, the patients who received butyrate supplements experienced constipation half as frequently and reported a 42.1 percent reduction in discomfort during bowel movements compared to the patients who didn’t.* These effects were durable for the remainder of the 12-week period and beyond. Importantly, the results corroborate the group’s prior research.
The group’s prior clinical review also suggests a broader role for butyrate in addressing a wide variety of other gastrointestinal diseases. In the context of postoperative care, patients might be inclined to take a butyrate supplement to address more than one of their health challenges. Because butyrate can address both constipation and inflammatory response, it’s uniquely disposed to help patients recover after surgery.
With nutritional supplements that contain tetrahydrocurcumin and butyrate, post-op patients have access to better resources than ever before. Although robust clinical trials supporting the use of these compounds in the postoperative niche are still forthcoming, an abundance of evidence suggests that the buzz generated by impressive in vitro results will carry over to patients. Researchers already have enough confidence in these two compounds to formulate specialized delivery systems to enable patients to take advantage of them to the fullest extent possible. Thanks to these compounds, patients can better deal with the side effects of surgery and postoperative medications.
The power of Tesseract supplements lies in enhancing palatability, maximizing bioavailability and absorption, and micro-dosing of multiple nutrients in a single, highly effective capsule. Visit our website for more information about how Tesseract’s products can help support your immune health.*
Banasiewicz T, Borycka-Kiciak K, Dobrowolska-Zachwieja A, et al. (2010). Gastroenterology Review, 6, 329-334.
Han Y, Lai S, Ko W, et al. (2012, January 06). Nutrition in Clinical Practice,27(1), 91-98.
Hyllested M, Jones S, Pedersen J, Kehlet H. (2002). British Journal of Anaesthesia, 88(2), 199-214.
Pituch A, Walkowiak J, Banaszkiewicz A. (2013). Gastroenterology Review, 5, 295-298.
Sandur SK, Pandey MK, Sung B, et al. (2007). Carcinogenesis, 28(8), 1765-1773.
Trads M, Deutch SR, Pedersen PU. (2017). Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences.