Diet and Surgery Recovery Time Linked

New research shows even a temporary switch to a low-fat diet cuts down on post-surgery complications.

Low-fat diet

This is what you should be eating pre-surgery. Photo via Shutterstock

It’s been drilled into our heads that a low-fat diet is the way to go. And new research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital shows that cutting down on your fat consumption isn’t just good for your waistline—it can reduce surgery recovery time, too.

In the study, published in the journal Surgery, researchers mimicked human surgery on three groups of mice: one raised on a high-fat diet, one on a low-fat diet, and one whose high-fat diet was switched to a low-fat program three weeks prior to surgery. Post-operation, the group that consumed more fat saw reduced levels of specialized hormones and high amounts of gene activity that is linked to inflammation, which is a key factor in post-surgery complications like pain, numbness, and weakness. The low-fat group, on the other hand, did not have these issues. And, notably, the group whose diet switched shortly before surgery more closely resembled the low-fat group than the high-fat group, leading researchers to posit that even a short-term dietary change can lessen the side effects of an operation.

Eating less fat makes recovery easier, the researchers say, because fat tissue is what gets pulled aside and disrupted when surgeons go in to operate on organs and tumors, and this trauma can lead to a difficult recovery. A Boston Globe article quotes the study’s lead author Keith Ozaki, a vascular surgeon at Brigham and Women’s:

“Over the last few decades, we’ve learned that if you minimize trauma to the liver, kidney, blood vessels, or heart when you operate, it helps accelerate people’s recovery from surgery,” said Dr. C. Keith Ozaki, a vascular surgeon at the Brigham. “We never really think of that fat tissue. We bore right through it, burn and yank it aside.”

When the researchers did pay attention to the fat tissue—by putting mice on a low-fat diet—they saw less trauma to the tissue, and fewer warning signs of complications. And though the study was done on mice, Ozaki says reducing fat intake for as little as a week before surgery could improve the healing process in humans as well.

The study may be relatively untested, but if you’re going in for an operation, cutting down on fat seems like a win-win. A (possible) shorter recovery time and a better post-surgery figure? Count us in.