“Doctor, any dietary restrictions?”  Or Doctor, “what should I eat to prevent infection after surgery?”…and so on…I get bombarded by different questions but the baseline anxiety is same “food’ and its implications on surgical outcome.

Nutrition and diet is a vast subject.

Let’s see how our nutrition affects our surgical outcome.

If you have undergone any surgery in the past you will easily recollect a list of investigations given to you by the doctor before the surgery is scheduled. I will try and decipher how these investigations matter to your surgical result.

Complete blood count or CBC as it is known popularly is the commonest test ordered.  Our hemoglobin level is the first indicator of our wellbeing. In Indian population a level of 12 gm. % is considered normal.

If you don’t suffer from any specific illness and are otherwise healthy then you should be around this level. Patients generally have more complications if their starting hemoglobin is low. One might argue that why not use a blood transfusion to increase the level of hemoglobin. Blood transfusion lowers your immunity and it has its own risks like transmitting diseases. I might go ahead and say “avoid blood transfusions at all costs unless it is lifesaving i.e. one has sustained a major injury and is bleeding profusely and without a timely blood transfusion is likely to die.

In routine elective surgery it is always better to wait and get the hemoglobin up by taking tablets and /or injections.

Message1: Don’t undergo an elective surgery with a hemoglobin of less than 10

Your serum albumin level is another good marker of malnutrition. A level of <3.5 of albumin means you are severely malnourished and the likely hood of complications after surgery is very high. This is commonly found in elderly patients for obvious reasons. This level can be brought up by consuming proteins. However this should be done under a doctor’s supervision. Someone with a bad kidney can further damage his/her kidney by loading it with proteins.

Message2: Don’t undergo an elective surgery with a albumin of less than 3.5

Under the heading of CBC you will also see a lymphocyte count. Your immunity level is shown by this count. A lower lymphocyte count means your immunity or the ability to fight an infection is reduced. A lymphocyte count less than 20% should ring alarm bells.

Message3: Don’t undergo a routine surgery if your lymphocyte count is <20%

Mind you these are general guidelines and things will vary on a lot of factors. E.g. someone with rheumatoid arthritis is very likely to have low hemoglobin. It is always better to consult your treating surgeon. However, use these guidelines for a safe surgery.