Do you have cuts and scratches that seem to take a long time to heal? If you get a pimple does it linger? I am consistently astounded by the way my 18-month old child’s scratches seem to heal up overnight. She is as prone to accidents as all adventurous small people are, and yet a scratch that would take me weeks to heal up for her will be beautiful smooth new skin within days. It seems sometimes that she is literally healing before my very eyes!
Our younger growing bodies are geared towards cell replication and tissue repair. Young skin is plump and infused with all the right nutrients to keep on growing no matter what set-backs it may encounter. Younger skin has an abundance of collagen and elastin which keep it supple and smooth. As we age, levels of hormones fall, and oxidation and inflammation increase, potentially damaging our collagen fibres and other structures that keep the architecture of the skin intact. Pollution, sun, exposure to chemicals, these all take their toll, as does our internal environment. Aside from the natural changes of age, there are some very common factors which can reduce the ability of our skin and tissues to heal well.
While this article is primarily talking about skin, almost anything which has a positive or negative effect on the skin will have a similar effect on all body tissues. So what helps skin heal will also help tissues to heal internally, for example after surgery or injury. The skin tends to reflect the nutritional status of the body, which is why wound healing is such an important indicator of general health.
We have identified 5 common reasons for poor or slow healing:
Poor nutrition has one of the greatest impacts on our capacity to heal and repair. It’s easy to forget that we are made up literally of the food we eat, and if we don’t get enough of the good stuff, we won’t be able to keep repairing and regenerating this beautiful body that we have. It’s also easy to think of our bodies as a static object or machine that we put food into, when in actual fact they are a dynamic group of cells and bacteria and fluids that are constantly repairing and renewing themselves. What we eat provides the building blocks for everything: our eyes, our liver, our immune system, our skin, our brain … our all.
Finding out more about your unique nutritional status is an important step to discovering what may be reducing your ability to heal quickly and effectively. Some common causes are: low protein diets, low levels of the minerals zinc or iron, or vitamins such as A, C or E, or Essential Fatty Acids. Zinc is essential for tissue repair and cellular replication, among other things, while iron is essential to carry oxygen in the blood. Vitamin C is very important for collagen production and for immune function. The list goes on and on!
Metabolic Changes, High Blood Sugar Levels and Inflammation
It is well known that people with diabetes, or high blood sugar, have a difficult time healing wounds. The presence of elevated sugars in the blood can have a detrimental effect on our ability to heal. In diabetics, sugars form complexes that damage the tiny blood vessels known as capillaries. When capillaries are damaged, essential good nutrients can’t be delivered to the wound site, and rubbish (dead cells etc) can’t be taken away. Inflammation, no matter how it shows up in your body, can also reduce the ability of the body to repair itself.
Stress and lack of sleep
We all know that stress and fatigue can make us feel rubbish, but what does it do to our ability to repair and heal? Basically, stress hormones switch the body into ‘fight or flight’ mode, i.e. stand and fight the tiger or run as fast as you can away from it! We simply do NOT have time to heal up when we are fighting and running. Healing necessitates the switch over to ‘rest and digest’ mode, where essential blood flow and nutrients can be directed towards other bodily functions (other than the brain and skeletal muscles!).
So we need enough rest time, when we are not stressed, in order to let healing take place. Stress affects not only our immune function (see below), but also our circulation (again, see below), and blood sugar and inflammation (see above), and nutrient status (again, see above!). In other words, too much stress is the antithesis of good health, and the enemy of good tissue repair!
Sleep, precious sleep. Sleep is the time when our cells can repair and regenerate. Too little sleep = too little time to heal stuff. Simple.
Ultimately, the driving force for cleaning up and repairing any cut, scrape insult or injury is an intact and functionally thriving immune system. Any factors which reduce immunity will reduce our capacity to heal effectively and efficiently. This could be any of the factors listed above, such as poor nutrient levels, or it could be the existence of other infections. Any other infections, especially chronic or long-standing ones, will be taxing the immune system already and affect its ability to mobilise and respond as it needs to. Allergies and sensitivities can also tie up immune resources.
One of the most visual reminders of the importance of circulation to the healing process is the varicose ulcer. Elderly people or those with limited mobility can be prone to the formation of ulcers, especially on the lower legs, which can be painfully slow to heal and at constant risk of further infection. Lack of mobility reduces circulation, meaning that fresh oxygen and important repair nutrients can’t get to the ulcer, and debris can’t be effectively removed by the body. Alongside the circulation of our blood through arteries, veins and capillaries is the lymphatic system, which is primarily a waste removal and immune surveillance system. Both our blood flow and our lymphatics require good hydration and enough movement to work optimally. Capillaries can also be damaged by some of the points mentioned above, and, of course, by smoking.
So in summary, here are the main points to consider if you’re just not healing up as well or as fast as you’d like to be:
- Identify any nutrient imbalances, you may be low in essential minerals or vitamins
- Look at your blood sugar levels and identify any other causes of inflammation in the body
- Are you stressed? Are you sleeping enough?
- Identify any allergies or intolerances, infections, or other conditions affecting your immune system
- Identify whether poor circulation is an issue for you, and be sure to drink enough water!
If any of these points sound like they may be underlying your poor wound healing, congratulations, you’ve just taken the first step to improving them. Simply identifying the factors that impact our health can be the most important beginning, as it reminds us that health is a dynamic state that we can influence in positive ways by the way we eat, breathe, sleep and live. Remember that good healing function has far-reaching consequences for our wellbeing and our ability to fight off some of the more chronic diseases associated with aging. It may just be a tiny cut, but it tells us so much, and may just point the way to a better and healthier future.