Supplements and Surgery: Not a “Natural” Combination


I love it when a person or incident inspires me to write. Such is the case for my writing today which was inspired by a man I met at a local food event this past October. I was there to help patrons find credible nutrition resources on the web when I was approached by a gentleman who asked me about fish oil supplements. He went on to say, “I never knew that I needed to stop taking these supplements before surgery. ” He then shared with  me the details of the complications he experienced after a surgical procedure, all of which could have been avoided had he stopped taking the supplements prior to surgery.

The complications described by the gentleman mentioned above were related to a couple of the potential side effects of consuming fish oil in amounts greater than 3 grams/day: decreased blood clotting and increased risk of bleeding. Both very serious complications, especially if you’re undergoing surgery. This real life story illustrates the potential negative impact supplements can have on the perioperative period.

Fish oil is a dietary supplement. Consumers should also be aware of the potential dangers of herbal supplements which are now perhaps the largest segment of the American supplement market. Dietary, nutritional  and herbal supplements are all exempt from the safety and efficacy regulations that are required of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Manufacturers of these supplements do not need FDA approval before they market these products (except in the case of  a new dietary ingredient). Consequently, these supplements have not been investigated in large clinical trials and the formulations are not standardized, but vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Although frequently marketed as “natural” the active ingredients in  supplements interact with other medications, have drug-like effects and side effects all of which can be dangerous.

Deciding to undergo a surgical procedure is a big decision.  Your goal is to have the BEST surgical outcome possible. It is prudent to discuss ALL supplements you are taking or are considering taking with your doctor (even those you believe to be “natural”). Many supplements thin the blood and increase the risk of bleeding which can lead to a host of complications including: hematoma, infection, possible need for blood transfusion, wound breakdown complications, cardiac effects, inability to begin rehabilitation immediately. Is that enough? There are plenty of variables to complicate surgery  without the additional risk factors from supplements loosely marketed as “natural”.

Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain: The Best Gift You Give Yourself

The days are growing shorter, the temperatures are dropping, soon you will smell roast turkey and pumpkin pie, and your calendar will be marked with holiday parties to attend. What time of year is it? Yes, it’s the worst time of of year for your waistline! Researchers report half of an individual’s yearly weight gain occurs from mid-late November to early January.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to zip up your jeans come the first of the New Year? There is no need to succumb to excess pounds put on during the winter months. A current study published in Scan’s Pulse suggests that daily self-monitoring of weight, physical activity and diet are feasible and potentially effective ways to minimize holiday weight gain.

So let’s start planning your holiday gift to yourself-weight maintenance!  When it comes to self-monitoring your weight, you will begin by weighing yourself daily and recording it. If your weight heads north, you will need to either increase your physical activity or cut back on calories. Cutting back on calories can be done by eliminating sweetened beverages, reducing or eliminating alcohol, reducing the number of meals eaten out and limiting calorie laden foods with little or no nutritional value.

In addition to self-monitoring your weight, it is recommended that you self-monitor your physical activity as well. This can be done with a log or a computer-tracking tool. Keeping a record of this everyday will help you adhere to daily exercise goals which can limit holiday weight gain. The gold standard would be for you to remain as active as you are during the rest of the year. However, if this is not realistic, don’t cut exercise out completely. Some activity is better than none. Simply trying to adhere to a step or walking goal may be beneficial. The number of calories you burn walking depends on your weight and the speed you move. A rule of thumb is a 180 pound individual burns 100 calories per mile. It may not sound like very much but it adds up. Consider this, if you burn 100 calories every day, at the end of the six week holiday period you would have saved yourself enough calories to eliminate approximately 1.2 pounds of weight gain.

Your food intake is the third and final item you should self-monitor.  Use of  a food journal will be helpful here. You should record the following every day: what you ate, how much, time you ate, where you ate, what you were doing while eating (if anything) and your emotional state. Journaling is a behavioral technique dietitians often use with clients to help them become more aware of what they are eating and how much of it. It can also be helpful to look back at the journal entries to decide what foods or behaviors were responsible for your weight gain. Get rid of these!

Self-monitoring your weight, physical activity, and food intake during this festive season will require self-discipline.  You can do it.  Take one day at a time. When January rolls around, and  you can still fit into your jeans, you will be glad you did!  Happy Holidays!


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