The Paleo Diet and Healing

Healthy hearts, and fast-healing wounds. Does the paleo diet have special regenerative powers? Photo courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I posted a comment in a paleo diet Facebook group a couple of days ago, making the observation that I seem to have been able to heal more quickly since going paleo.  Cuts, grazes, scratches…they all recover faster, with less scarring, and with reduced likelihood of infection.  I noted that this wasn’t a scientifically-verified observation, but it was certainly my experience that there was a direct connection between the paleo diet and healing.

It seems I’m not alone.  Several comments for friends attested to the fact that many of us are observing the very same thing.  Here are some that others have observed:

  • Cuts stop bleeding quicker, and knit together sooner than expected;
  • One friend’s puppy (fed on the paleo diet for dogs) recovered from an operation at a rate that stunned the vet;
  • Pain from burns reduce sooner than usual, and the burn heals fast with little scarring;
  • Colds occur less frequently, and less severely – or don’t appear at all, even when several nearby others have them;
  • Quicker recovery from intense exercise;
  • Old scars and moles drying up and falling off (particularly when engaged in ketogenic fasting).

Does this mean the paleo diet is a cure-all, and paleo dieters are heading for invincibility?  Of course not – but it does suggest that there’s something about this way of eating (and the wider lifestyle) that supports the body’s natural ability to heal.

My own assessment is that the generally anti-inflammatory nature of paleo – combined with its abundant supply of bio-available fats and proteins and the fact that it’s a rich source of healing dietary cholesterol – is a major factor.

Having been mulling over the healing nature of the paleo diet, I was intrigued to come across this Q&A with Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet.  In it, he suggests some of the reasons why the diet may well be an optimal one for healing:

Although we are not aware of any direct experimental evidence showing how the Paleo Diet influences healing, it seems reasonable that the diet may reduce healing time for acute injuries, similar to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) strain described below. The MCL is one of the four major ligaments of the knee, and is on the medial part of the knee joint in humans.

“Dear Dr. Cordain,

I have some questions regarding our son Andrew. He is the 15-year-old, competitive swimmer…Turns out that he has an MCL strain with his right knee. He saw an orthopedist this week. He won’t be competing for the rest of this summer, and won’t be doing much breaststroke for a while.

I was told this week that it takes 6 months for the cell tissue to completely heal with a ligament strain. It just dawned on me today that his Paleo Diet might make a difference in the recovery of his MCL.

I haven’t read anything with regard to this yet. But, is his diet going to help the knee to heal back to 100%? He also begins physical therapy next week. His team has a 6-week break after July that will be a huge benefit. Have you known of these types of ligament injuries to completely heal?

On numerous occasions, Andrew has told people that he feels better physically, and thinks more clearly on his Paleo Diet…And, his acne is a thing of the past!! He is a real Paleo supporter. Thank you for any recommendations you have for Andrew.”

Teresa

***

Hi Teresa,

Ligamentous tissue, because it is poorly vascularized, takes much longer than soft tissue to heal. However, there are a number of elements of the Paleo Diet that may promote rapid tissue healing:

  • It has been demonstrated that protein deficient patients recover more slowly than a control group. This makes the Paleo Diet, because it is a high protein diet, a perfect intervention in this MCL injury and similar injuries. In such cases, it is desirable to have a diet in which protein reaches 1.2 grams/kg/day.
  • Increased branch-chain amino acids (valine, leucine and isoleucine) from the high animal protein diet will also speed up healing time.
  • More rapid resolution of the acute inflammatory stage of tissue injury will occur because of increased consumption of long-chain fatty acids (DHA, EPA, and AA).
  • Increased trace nutrient density (such as zinc, iron and phytochemicals) further promotes healing and tissue regeneration.

In addition to the diet, there are also supplements that could help in wound healing.

  • Vitamin C is an important cofactor in synthesis of collagen and proteoglycans, and other components of bone, skin, capillary walls, and other connective tissues. It is important for hydroxylation of proline and lysine residues in procollagen. Vitamin C is also an important supplement in immunomodulation and antioxidation.
  • Oxidative stress delays wound healing so wounds increase the necessity of vitamin C due to the increased reactive oxygen species generated. Vitamin C is also able to regenerate other antioxidants such as vitamin E.
  • It is recommended that you not exceed 2 grams a day since some adverse health effects have been demonstrated, such as hemolysis (red blood cell destruction), especially in glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficient patients. The recommended dosage is 1-2 grams per day.
  • Glucosamine increases hyaluronic acid synthesis, which is an important substance in extra cellular matrix composition. Glucosamine may increase insulin resistance and glucose levels so it should not be taken by diabetic patients. Otherwise, it is safe at a dose of 500 mg 3 times per day.
  • Omega-3 fats will reduce inflammation and help promote the healing process.
  • Glutamine has been demonstrated to decrease the number of days in the hospital for wound patients. It supports the immune system in the initial phase of inflammation, and serves as an energy source for fibroblasts and protein synthesis. The recommended dosage is 0.2 grams/kg/day.
  • Arginine is another important amino acid in tissue regeneration. Some of its actions include stimulation of cell migration (for wound recovery), and it is a precursor for proline during collagen synthesis.
  • Zinc is essential in DNA synthesis, protein synthesis and cell division. All of these are important factors in wound healing. Zinc content is high in the Paleo Diet. A recommended dosage to promote healing is 15-30 mg per day.
  • Other nutrients that could be beneficial for wound healing are garlic (with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties), pineapple (because bromelain accelerates wound healing and decreases inflammation), and grape-derived phytochemicals (such as proanthocyanidin) that exert anti-inflammatory effects and support healing of elastin and collagen.

We expect both athletes and surgery patients to recover more quickly on the Paleo Diet than they otherwise would eating a conventional modern diet.

Interesting stuff.  What’s your experience of healing on the paleo diet?

 

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Brian Cormack Carr is a life and career coach, charity CEO, writer, and advocate of a real foods diet.
His home on the web is www.cormackcarr.com where you will find more articles, his free Lifecrafting Newsletter, and information about his online career-creation programme www.vitalvocation.com.
You can follow Brian on Twitter: @cormackcarr

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6 Responses to The Paleo Diet and Healing

  1. Heidi Maxwell October 29, 2011 at 9:10 am

    I haven’t been sick once in 8+ months of eating paleo/primal. And the one time I thought I might be getting sick, I was better within 6 hours.

    My recovery times from workouts are faster than ever.

    Burns and bruises heal very quickly. Noticeable scars are fading.

    • Lila Solnick October 29, 2011 at 4:15 pm

      That’s is fantastic Heidi!
      I have found that I too have amazing recovery times. Interestingly over the last month I was sick twice. These were viruses that had been released from fat cells and my severe lymphedema due to detox, so you might call them “sleeper cells” (LOL). But what it means is that they did not go through my current immune defense to get into me. They’ve probably been hiding for years. But I recovered amazingly quickly from these. The first one in 4 days (I had a fever of 102.5F starting out) and the second one, which happened this week, I recovered in 2 days (also a high fever). In the past I would have been weak for a week, at least.
      I suspect that eating paleo has given us amazing recuperative abilities, far exceeding those of other humans….
      Thanks for visiting and posting
      Lila

  2. Margie Camomile December 31, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I had Carpal Tunnel Surgery on Dec 14th, and have a one inch incision on the palm of my right hand. I went to Physical therapy yesterday for the second time and the theapist told me that my hand and recovery is the best she has seen in 20 years!!. I do not have anything to compare me with. I did start some massage and hand exercises before I went in, but that could not have made that much difference. So this morning I put in Paleo diet and healing and your article came up first.
    I have been eating a Paleo diet for one year. Yes over the holidays I ate more candy and had ice cream a few times, but I guess the no wheat and more protein helped me heal better, faster. I am pleased.
    I also have not been sick once since I started this diet. Inflammation is way down in my right knee too, but that is another story.
    I do take glucosamine, Vit C, zinc, Omega – 3 caps. But we also use Omega fats to cook with and use healthier eggs.
    I might consider sharing your article with my physical therapist. She might not know about the Paleo diet.
    Margie

    • Lila Solnick December 31, 2011 at 1:31 pm

      That is fabulous Margie! Remarkable things happen when we feed our bodies with the fuel it really needs to operate optimally. I too have found that I do not get sick anymore. I just love this stuff!
      If you are okay with eating a bit of sugary carbs now and then I wouldn’t sweat it. I have trouble with carbs, so I really have to be careful. But many people do not and have few problems eating them. As for supplements, many paleo diet followers take them (myself included) because no matter what you are eating there are still going to be deficiencies. We don’t know know exactly what our paleo ancestors ate, we can only approximate and therefore there are probably nutrients we don’t get.
      Please do share this site with your therapist and with anyone else you might think is interested. We want to educate everyone.
      Thanks for visiting and Happy New Year!
      Lila

    • Brian Cormack Carr January 5, 2012 at 12:59 am

      Congratulations, Margie! That’s great to hear. It definitely sounds as though the care you’ve taken of yourself has helped speed your healing. Thanks for sharing your story and for spreading the word! :)

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