Wounds heal in a pattern--the bleeding stops, the body sends special chemicals to the injured site to repair cells, blood vessels regrow and new tissue forms. Wound healing may take up to three weeks or longer, depending on extent of damage, nutrients available for the chemical reactions necessary to each step in the healing process, infection and overall health status. Complications include scar development, ulcer formation and infection. Vitamins in foods or dietary supplements play an active role in the processes necessary for wound healing.
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The protein-rich fibrous material that connects tissues called collagen requires vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, for production. Wounds fail to heal without vitamin C. A genetic mutation in humans results in an inability to produce ascorbic acid like other animals so vitamin C must be a part of the diet. A deficiency in vitamin C causes tooth loss, bleeding gums, painful joints and legs, anemia and excessive bruising. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, tomatoes and green leafy vegetables.
Epithelial cells form a layer of skin and the outside surface of cells forming skin and veins. For epithelial cells to form, the body needs vitamin A and a deficiency in this vitamin slows wound healing. The liver can store a several month supply of vitamin A absorbed from foods and converted into usable forms. Foods rich in vitamin A include cod liver oil, butter, egg yolks and bright orange vegetables like carrot, pumpkin, squash and sweet potato.
The body needs vitamin B1, also called thiamine, to break down carbohydrates and proteins. A deficiency in thiamine results in less collagen production needed for wounds to heal. Vitamin C helps the body to absorb thiamine and coffee and tea can reduce the amount of thiamine in the body. Foods rich in thiamine include liver, pork, fish, poultry, eggs milk, legumes and whole grains.
Vitamin B2, also called riboflavin, supplies oxygen to cells and breaks down carbohydrates and proteins. A deficiency in riboflavin reduces the production of antibodies to prevent infection in animals. Riboflavin may help heal burns and wounds. Foods rich in riboflavin include milk and dairy products, fish, enriched cereals and breads and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin B3, or niacin, breaks down carbohydrates and proteins. The body can make vitamin B3 from the amino acid tryptophan found in proteins, but the amount the body can make doesn't meet the body's needs. Niacin as a medication is used to treat a disease called pellagra that results from vitamin B3 deficiency caused by malnutrition. Symptoms of pellagra create cracks in the skin when the skin becomes dry and flaky. Too much niacin causes the skin to burn, itch and turn red. Foods rich in tryptophan that can be made into vitamin B3 in the body are poultry and eggs. Enriched cereals and breads have niacin added.
Vitamin B6 – pyridoxine
The body needs vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine, for enzyme function to break down proteins and use the amino acids for growth. Proteins help in regrowing vessels and forming collagen necessary to wound healing. Pyridoxine participates in the conversion of tryptophan into niacin. Foods rich in vitamin B6 include rice, bran, yeast and poultry, fish, pork and walnuts.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- World Health Organization; Dietary mgt … wound healing; Elbanna, H.M. Et al; 1996
- “Encyclopedia of Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements”; Navarra T & Lipkowitz M, MD; 1996
- “Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary”; 19th edition; 2001
- National Institutes of Health: Vitamins