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Eat you way back to sport; how diet and nutrition can boost recovery from injury

It’s not easy to get accurate figures when it comes to sporting injuries since so many never get registered at hospitals or become incorporated into nationwide surveys. Most people simply manage their injuries at home and limp along until they get better. Interestingly, back in 2005 Barclays Bank (Barclays Spaces for Sports) commissioned a survey into the rate of sporting injuries in the UK and published some very interesting results; just under 30% of the UK experience a sports related injury every year. That translates to roughly 22 million cases per year, the majority of which are the direct result of over-exertion, lack of preparation and general clumsiness! Most people recover well from injury but some 25% of those injured were forced to quit their sport. By far the most common injuries were sustained in sort tissues such as ligaments and tendons with football injuries leading the pack.

While some 26% choose to leave their injury to nature to heal there are many ways encourage the recovery from injury that could reduce the risk of a problem becoming chronic or forcing early retirement from your chosen sport. All to often little is mentioned about the effects of food, diet and nutrition and its effects on the healing process. Keeping in mind the saying “we are what we eat” it would make sense to look at your when suffering from an injury because your food will, in essence, be the mother-load when it comes to supplying your body with the building blocks for healing and tissue regeneration. It’s amazing that Hippocrates noticed this and famously commented “feed the patient and they’ll get better” over 2000 years ago and its only now that we beginning to re-appreciate the effects of nutrition on healing all over again. In general, the healing time can be viewed as the expected amount of time for wound repair, following an injury or surgery. The disability time refers to the generally expected maximal amount of time within which a person should have regained pre-injury or pre-surgical ability and performance. As a rule of thumb, healing time is always longer than disability time.

From injury to recovery
If someone reaches their expected healing time but continues to complain of pain and disability the condition is said to shift into the chronic phase, a scenario that has many possible implications. To illustrate this with a common example; the healing time for a simple knee ligament injury is in the region of 3 months. Someone complaining of persistent pain and disability after this time is then considered to be suffering from a chronic injury that needs careful investigation in order to discover if there are any maintaining or aggravating issues. Nutritional and dietary factors are now thought to play a key role in healthy resolution of tissue repair following injury and there is special interest in key amino acids, vitamins and zinc. If all the right nutrients are in place injury healing should run like a seamless process and full function should be restored. However, deficiencies and poor diet can cause serious disruption to one or more of the 4 key points of the healing process. If this happens, a weak and ineffective repair will result nudging the problem ever closer to a chronic injury state. Nutritional research has now confirmed that each of the 4 stages (vascular reaction, inflammation, proliferation and remodeling) of the healing process requires specific vitamins, minerals and amino acids for a successful outcome, even from relatively trivial injuries

Healing; a 4-stage process
The initial phase following any sporting injury is characterized by the rapid constriction of blood vessels closely followed by a more prolonged phase of blood vessel dilation as the vessels open up and become leaky. This allows important healing components of the blood to exit the blood vessels and take up residence within the damaged tissue. You tend to notice this phase of the reaction since there will be swelling, heat and pain! Despite this rather unpleasant side effect is vital ti the healing process since it starts to clear away the damaged tissue. Because of the presence of white blood cells any invading bug are confronted and destroyed which prevents opportunistic infections complicating the injury. The second stage of the process is associated with some persistent warmth surrounding the damaged area. Heat is a typical sign of injury and represents the outward effects of inflammatory chemicals and increased blood supply. Its over these phases that the protein-based healing framework is laid down forming a vital scaffolding onto which new tissue will be built as the region is repaired. For this reason, this stage of the healing process is descriptively known as the proliferative phase. In most cases, basic tissue healing is up to 70% complete after four weeks, but the process of remodeling in more extensive injuries can continue for around two years.

Nutrients are the vital basic raw materials for healing
A quick look at the health section of your local supermarket or health store will reval just how many vitamin and mineral supplements there are, each with their own story to tell! When it comes to injury management there are a few that stand head and shoulders above others, these include vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, L-Arginine and L-Glutamine. Vitamin A is needed for the formation of strong and effective collagen fibres that prevent wounds from breaking down prematurely. This is especially evident in skin injuries. Along with its collagen strengthening function vitamin A is also necessary for an effective immune response that protects against nasty infections that sould seriously delay the healing process. Because of its potential to be toxic, retinol (true vitamin A) is not normally recommended as a supplement. To get round this, it’s non-toxic relative, known as beta carotene, is safe to use by those who have not had a history of smoking related lung cancer. This caveat to beta carotene use follows on from some research findings indicating that it may aggravate this form of lung cancer. In health the body can convert beta carotene into retinol as needed without the worry of toxicity. Foods that are colourful tend to owe their colours to the carotenoid group of compounds of which beta carotene is just one. Select from a variety of foods such as carrots, spinach, kale, apricots, papaya, mango and tomatoes. Vitamin C is another important nutrient needed for the production of strong collage. While scurvy (a gross deficiency state) is unlikely today, an optimal amount of vitamin C is still essential for the healthy resolution of an injury. Vitamin C is also needed for the normal functioning of many immune cells as well as for the strength of blood vessel walls. Collagen, the very glue that holds us together is dependant on adequate vitamin C levels, a lack of vitamin C is commonly associated with fragile and poorly healed injuries. Its interesting that we all tend to associate oranges with vitamin C but its sweet red peppers that actually boast the highest amounts. Other vitamin C foods include cooked broccoli. Contart to popular belief, cooking is known to release more readily available (bioavailable) vitamin C than eating food raw. Also consider eating more ‘greens’, sprouts and tomatoes to boost your vitamin C intake from foods. When we look to the trace element zinc it becomes apparent that a deficiency is known to result in a delayed or poorly healed injury. Zinc is needed to increase scar strength. The need for zinc is thought to be the highest from time of injury especially during the early inflammatory phase. Getting a good boost of zinc from your diet can present vegetarians with a dilemma; the highest amounts are found in oysters (around 77mg per serving), followed by beef, crab, pork and lobster! However baked beans (1.7mg per serving) and cashew nuts (1.6mg per serving) offer fair amounts when eaten on a regular basis. Zinc toxicity can be an issue with higher intakes. Keeping a supplement dose to around 15mg for a few months is a reasonable thing to do over a phase of injury when your zinc needs are higher than normal.

The need for proteins
Protein intake is vital to optimal wound healing, it’s an established fact in all manner of injuries. Out of the many available to the body two key amino acids (Arginine and Glutamine) appear to be essential for soft tissue regeneration and repair. Arginine has a surprising immune function in addition to stimulating the production of complex proteins needed essential for the formation of new body tissue where as glutamine is used by specialist healing cells known as fibroblasts as a primary energy source during the healing process. Fibroblasts are central to the balanced production of fibrous tissue scar tissue. Using supplements of these important amino acids has been shown to enhance repair and healing. Balancing the proteins in your diet is normally the best way to obtain a broad a broad spectrum of well absorbed amino acids with foods such as parsley, raw spinach, fish, meat and beans boasting a high glutamine content with chocolate (yes chocolate!), coconut, dairy products, meat, oats, nuts, raw cereals, peanuts, soybeans and walnuts serving as good sources of arginine. To be on the safe side, those suffering from viral infections or who are pregnant or lactating and those with schizophrenia should avoid taking over 30 mgs of arginine per day while those with liver or kidney diseases, Reye’s syndrome or other disorders resulting in the accumulation of ammonia in the blood need to avoid excessive glutamine intakes.

In managing your sporting injury it is important to remain realistic and understand that healing is a natural process but it can be enhanced with good diet, specific supplements when needed and the careful use of physical therapy and rest.


Product link: ST-Repair, nutrients to support tissue healing


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Eye health essentials; what you need to know about vitamins, minerals and antioxidants

Can what we eat really influence our eyes?

When was the last time you thought about your eyes? You have to admit it; you wake up and they just start working. There is no warming up period, no lag time between opening your eye-lids and receiving images and, unlike your telephone or internet connection, there are no problems with intermittent connections. You eyes just work, day in and day out. In fact you eyes can process around 36,000 bits of information per hour and contribute towards 85% of your total knowledge. Being composed of over two million working parts you eyes use around 65% of all the pathways within the brain. Eyed are truly miraculous structures yet we just expect them to work and never question their existence until something goes wrong. It is with this in mind may be its about time to consider the special nutritional requirements the eyes have. After all, we have discussed heart health in the past and the importance of nutrition and the brain. The eyes have their own specific needs and being aware of this could help offset some of the slow to develop degenerative conditions that afflict a growing number of people. Feeding your eyes may be one of the best dietary and lifestyle changes you could make to help protect such a vital pair of structures.

Eye essentials

It is a sad reality that in some of the poorest countries in the world a simple supplement of vitamin A could prevent the estimated 250 million cases of deficiency that I turn leads on to night blindness and more seriously a drying of the eyes called xerophthalmia. This type of dry eye is not just an irritating symptom it’s a sight threatening condition. In Africa, if you can’t see you will probably not survive very long! Vitamin A is one of those vitamins that acts as a bit of a double edges sword. Too much can cause toxic reactions that may, rather ironically, include dry eyes, along with other serious issues including headache, drowsiness, abdominal pains and vomiting to name a few. Luckily, this is a rare situation since supplements containing vitamin A tend to deliver it in the form of the non-toxic, water soluble form known as beta carotene. True vitamin A (retinol) is a fat soluble vitamin that over time can accumulate in the body to the point where toxicity symptoms may ensue. Beta carotene, on the other hand, is only converted into retinol within the body if the body is deficient in retinol. Unless there is an overt deficiency of vitamin A in its retinol form the water soluble version is always preferable for this reason if you are taking supplements. Simply check the label where you will probably see the vitamin A ingredient described as being in the beta carotene form. Excessive intake of beta carotene can occur especially if supplements containing it are taken at the same time as a regular serving of carrot juice because carrots are also high in beta carotene. Over time the skin can turn a yellow-orange colour, most noticeable on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. This situation is known as carotenemia and is not in itself hazardous but is a strong indication that you need to cut back on the carrots and beta carotene supplements! In general, it is recommended that people do not take vitamin A (retinol) for extended periods and that pregnant and lactating women avoid it altogether (it can sneak into the diet via fish liver oils and organ meat such as liver) because of the increased risk of damage to the foetus and breast fed newborn. Keeping you intake of water-soluble vitamin A foods up though. These include the bright coloured fruits such as papayas and oranges and the coloured vegetables like sweet peppers, squash and pumpkin. These foods not only deliver water soluble vitamin A but a complex array of other compounds that are being shown to be of great importance in the fight against nutritional related eye problems and offsetting degenerative eye disease. What needs to be remembered here is the fact that the need for vitamin A in African children is quite different from the requirements of vitamin A in the UK population so boosting the vitamin A (retinol form) intake is probably unnecessary and could be hazardous. On the other hand, maintaining vitamin A levels can be achieved by using beta carotene containing supplements if the diet is very low in the foods mentioned above. However, keep the intake to sensible levels to avoid carotenemia!

The antioxidant connection

There does not appear to be a week that passes without some news on the benefits of antioxidants, but what are they and why are they important in maintaining eye health? Antioxidants are naturally occurring compounds that help slow or prevent oxidative changes in the body and oxidative changes are associated with accelerated degenerative disease. We all live in an oxygen rich environment but this comes at a price. As we breathe our cells utilise the oxygen and produce by-products known as free radicals. These are a group of compounds that if left unchecked or are generated at an accelerated rate cause the oxidative damage we all read about. Antioxidants are the key to keeping this process in check since they neutralize and make safe the free radicals. So, the less free radicals there are buzzing around the less damaging oxidative changes occur and, in turn, the rate of tissue damage and degeneration takes place. Hence, diets high in antioxidants have been advocated for a range of degenerative problems ranging from heart disease and diabetes through to arthritis, cancer and eye problems such as macular degeneration. No one would be as bold as to suggest that such diets can reverse these situations but a change in diet and lifestyle can definitely benefit these problems and could slow their progression.

The key antioxidant nutrients are vitamin A (in the carotenoid form), vitamin E and C along with the mineral selenium.  All these important nutrients can be found in a balanced diet but you can top up a diet with a well formulated food supplement. This may be important in those with food intolerances or for those with specific eye related problems where a guaranteed daily intake of antioxidant nutrients would be desirable.

Key antioxidant foods

Vitamin A

Carrots, squashes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, peaches, apricots and all bright coloured fruits and vegetables

Vitamin C

Citrus fruits such as oranges, limes, coloured berries such as blue berries, strawberries, sweet peppers, green leafy vegetables, broccoli

Vitamin E

Nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils


Fish, shellfish, grains, eggs, chicken and garlic

The carotenoid connection

Within the group of antioxidant compounds the carotenoids appear to have specific influence on the health of the eye. One of these, known as lutein, has come to the attention of scientists and had been the centre of intense investigation when it as noted that in may help off set the effects of macular degeneration. Lutein is found in egg yolks and in the dark green leafy vegetables. It appears to act, like all antioxidants, as a free radical neutraliser but because it accumulates in the tissues that are exposed to the outside environment (the eyes and skin) it exerts this effect to great effect in these tissues over other antioxidants that are distributed to all body tissues. In regards to eye health lutein filters out the high energy blue wavelengths common to sunlight and artificial light. By doing this it is thought that lutein could reduce the damaging effects of these wavelengths on light exposed tissues such as the eye and skin. Getting enough lutein (research suggests around 6-10 mg per day) may be difficult from diet alone since you would need to eat a large bowl of fresh spinach every day to get around 6mg. This could be a case where a food supplement is a good idea. Another up and coming eye specific antioxidan is known as zeaxanthin. Again, it belongs to the carotenoid group of compounds.

Foods high in key carotenoids

High lutein foods

Yellow peppers, spinach, mango, bilberries, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, eggs

High zeaxanthin foods

Orange peppers, corn, lettuce (not iceberg), tangerines, spinach, broccoli, oranges and eggs

Pulling it all together

It is clear that good food promotes all aspects of health but certain foods do appear to be associated with specific eye related nutritional needs. A large trail (the Age Related Eye Disease Study trial, see for details) has confirmed the importance of the antioxidants vitamin A, C, E and the minerals selenium, zinc and copper in slowing the progression of age related macular degeneration so we know that boosting those foods high in these nutrients or taking a well formulated supplement is going to be a good idea. A number of smaller studies have also focused on nutrition with special reference to lutein and zeaxanthin. Both of these compounds have been associated with improved eye health.

When looking to the UK population, the Royal National Institute for the Blind comments that research has shown that many people do not get enough vitamins and minerals from their diet and suggest the use of food supplements. These must not be taken, however, as a substitute for a balanced diet!

When to consider a eye specific supplement

  • When intake of fresh fruit and vegetables are low
  • When the absorption of vitamins and minerals poor
  • When its hard to obtain and prepare fresh produce
  • When food intolerances prohibit eating key foods

Product link

Vision Essentials: balanced all-in-one eye specific nutrition

Useful Contacts

Royal National Institute for the Blind

Macular Disease Society

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Eat well to heal well

Most of us never give a second thought to the healing process, we get an injury and it heals up; simple. What we neglect to appreciate is just how complex and well orchestrated the healing process actually is. If any step along the way is defective or interrupted the healing process can become delayed and problems can ensue.

When we damage any tissue in the body the natural process of wound healing jumps in and immediately starts to clear things up. The damaged tissues need to be replaced with new. This process demands the use of precious raw materials such as proteins, specific nutrients and energy in the form of calories to fuel the mechanisms of repair. Even following a small wound the natural reaction of the body is to stimulate the metabolism as part of a stress reaction. In this situation the term stress does not imply the anxiety reaction commonly associated with the phrase but refers to the biological and hormonal stress reaction that places specific demands (stress) on the body. This early phase of wound healing is technically known as the ‘catabolic phase’ because it is characterized by a breakdown of tissue. During this time water can be used at an increased rate along with an increased release of energy from food or stored body fat. In very undernourished individuals, with low body fat, muscle may be broken down for energy. This situation is not good because it starves the healing wound of much needed proteins (since they are being ‘burnt’ to provide energy) when they should be being utilized for the healing process. In such cases, delayed wound healing is the inevitable result.

Common problems that are associated with delayed wound healing

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Liver disease
  • Smoking
  • Kidney disease
  • Poor circulation
  • Poor nutrition
  • Weak immune system
  • Inflammatory disease
  • Being over 65 years old

The importance of protein

Without a good protein supply wounds will not heal well at all. Reduced intake of protein will decrease the production of collagen; the ‘glue’ that literally holds us together. Most diets deliver adequate proteins but over phases of wound healing special attention should be given to high protein foods like grains, seeds, nuts, eggs, fish, meat and if you are not sensitive to it dairy foods.

L-Arginine is an important amino acid found in many protein foods. It’s a vital ingredient for the production of proteins structures needed for repair and a strong healed wound. Supplements containing L-Arginine have been shown to promote collagen production and accelerate the healthy healing of many kinds of soft tissue (skin, muscle, tendon) injuries. Another key amino acid needed for healing is L-Glutamine which is also needed for optimal collagen production. Using a supplement containing these saves the body from mobilizing them from muscle tissue and ensures a ready and adequate supply.

The importance of fats

Fats get a bad press but we do know that there are good and bad fats. All the cells in our body have a fat membrane that keeps the tissues flexible. Making sure that you get enough good fat in the diet can make a big difference to the healing process. There is no need to take excessive amounts of additional oils but 500-1000 mg of flax oil per day would be adequate. Taking too much omega-3 oil (eg. high strength fish oil) may actually reduce the strength of a healed wound.

The importance of carbohydrates

Energy is the currency needed to heal a wound. Carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, cereals, brown rice and potatoes deliver plenty of starch that is readily metabolized into energy for life and healing. However, diabetics need t take care not to radically change their carbohydrate intake without supervision.

How about vitamins and minerals

Balanced diets should deliver all the nutrients needed but some nutrients do appear more important to boost wound healing. It may come as no surprise that vitamin C demands increase. This vitamin is needed for collagen production and immune support. Poor healed wounds and wound infection is associated with low vitamin C levels or intake. The same can be said about vitamin A but this nutrient should only be taken in the form of beta carotene because of the potential for toxic side effects from pure vitamin A (retinol). Eating plenty of coloured fruits and vegetables will boost the dietary levels and a supplement may help as well. Of all the minerals available to the body a healing wound demands extra zinc and iron. Unless anaemic, the body has good stores of iron and supplements are not recommended because of the risk of iron overload (toxicity) or more commonly bowel upset. Supplementation with zinc on the other hand may offer some additional benefit. Slow to heal wounds have been shown to improve with the use of additional zinc and by increasing the intake of key zinc foods such as fish, eggs and shellfish. Eating more red meat, eggs, dried fruit and dark green vegetables can boost dietary iron.

In general wounds healing can be significantly improved by careful attention to diet and fluid intake; it may sound simple but it’s a vital step and makes all the difference between a well healed or poorly healed wound. The preparation ST-Repair will deliver the key additional nutrients L-Arginine, L-Glutamine, vitamin C, beta carotene and zinc in the form of a supplement that have all been associated with optimal healing. Whether you have a surgical wound that needs healing, a sports injury or other soft tissue strain never forget the importance of food and nutrients in the process of healthy tissue repair.

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