Everyone will get a wound in their lifetime, most likely several.
Wounds can vary from a minor cut to a major laceration that requires stitches.
If you have diabetes, a simple wound can lead to major complications because of the role blood sugar levels have on wound healing.
So what can you do to improve wound healing if you have diabetes? Keep reading to find out.
Why is wound healing slower with diabetes?
There are several reasons why diabetes causes slower wound healing. Chronic high blood sugar levels reduce circulation, which means your cells don’t receive the nutrients and oxygen they need to promote healing.
If your diabetes is uncontrolled, you might develop neuropathy. Neuropathy is when your nerves become damaged, causing symptoms like tingling and loss of sensation.
If you have neuropathy, you might not sense pain as easily as you used to, which can cause wounds to go untreated. The longer your wound goes untreated, the longer the healing process will be.
Inflammation is thought to be one of the primary causes of diabetes, particularly type 2. While inflammation is a normal part of wound healing, too much inflammation can cause delayed wound healing.
Altered immune system response
One study found that people with diabetes had lower levels of a gene responsible for wound healing present in their foot ulcers.
People with type 2 diabetes are generally thought to have an altered immune response, increasing the susceptibility to illness, infections, and other conditions which may alter the wound healing process.
Read more Diabetic Foot Ulcer Nursing Diagnosis & Care Plan
When your immune system can’t fight off things like bacteria, wounds are more likely to become infected. Infected wounds are more complicated and take longer to heal, and may lead to complications like amputations.
Delayed wound healing is part of the reason for the high percentage of amputations among people with diabetes. Diabetes is believed to be the leading cause of amputations worldwide.
The most common reasons for amputations in people with diabetes are poorly healing diabetic foot ulcers, which can spread to the leg.
8 natural ways to improve wound healing
1. Control your blood sugar levels
The best way to improve wound healing when you have diabetes is to control your blood sugar levels. The better your blood sugar control, the less likely you are to suffer from poorly-healing wounds, infections, neuropathy, and other complications.
You can promote healthy blood sugar levels by eating a healthy diet, being physically active, checking your blood sugar regularly, and taking your diabetes medications as prescribed.
2. Increase your vitamin C intake
Vitamin C is important for wound healing. Vitamin C helps form collagen, the most abundant protein in your body.
Collagen helps form strong and elastic skin and is necessary for new skin growth. Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant that helps fight against inflammation.
Vitamin C can also be applied topically to help fade scars from old wounds, thanks to its ability to lighten skin.
Boost your vitamin C intake by choosing foods like:
- Sweet peppers (bell peppers)
- Brussels sprouts
- Tomato juice
3. Focus on zinc
Along with vitamin C, zinc is another important nutrient to promote wound healing. Zinc deficiency is linked with delayed wound healing. Zinc is also part of the process of making different proteins in your body that help form skin and muscle.
4. Practice good skincare habits
Healthy skin is the best defense against wounds and can help wounds heal more quickly. Skin issues can increase your likelihood of developing non-healing wounds, so The American Diabetes Association recommends following good skincare habits such as:
- Keep your skin clean and dry.
- Avoid very hot baths and showers. If your skin is dry, avoid bubble baths. Moisturizing soaps may help, too. Afterward, use a standard skin lotion, but don’t put creams between your toes which can cause too much moisture and fungal growth.
- Scratching dry or itchy skin can open it up and allow infection to set in. Prevent dry skin by moisturizing your skin, especially in cold or windy weather.
- Treat cuts right away by washing minor cuts with soap and water. Only use an antibiotic cream or ointment if your doctor says it’s okay, and cover minor cuts with sterile gauze. See your healthcare provider right away if you get a major cut, burn, or infection.
- During cold, dry months, keep your home more humid by running a humidifier. Bathe less during this weather, if possible, since bathing too often can dry your skin out.
- Use mild shampoos. High-sudsing shampoos can over-dry your skin.
- See a dermatologist (skin doctor) about skin problems if you cannot solve them yourself or with the help of your primary care provider.
Read more LADA Diabetes – Living with LADA Diabetes
5. Change wound dressings as recommended
Some wounds shouldn’t be covered with dressings, so you should consult with your wound care team to see if you should cover your wound site or leave it open to the air.
If you are supposed to dress your wound site, change the dressings as often as recommended by your wound care specialist. Not changing your wound dressings often enough can delay wound healing and increase the risk of wound infection.
6. Visit a wound care center
If you have a chronic wound that will take a long time to heal, you may be a good candidate for a wound care center.
A wound care center specializes in wound care and can offer more advanced treatments like hyperbaric oxygen therapy and other state-of-the-art technology.
7. Stay hydrated
Most of your body consists of water by weight. Water is a part of cells that make up new skin and tissue.
If you’re dehydrated, the wound healing process will be slower. You might also experience more scarring if your skin isn’t hydrated.
Drink plenty of non-sugar-sweetened beverages and eat water-rich foods like melon, grapes, leafy green vegetables, and other fruits and vegetables.
8. Include protein with your meals and snacks
Protein plays a major role in rebuilding broken-down tissue like skin and muscle. Protein needs are increased in people with chronic and/or severe wounds.
Aim to get around one gram of protein per kilogram of your body weight per day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds (68 kilograms), you should eat around 68 grams of protein each day.
Read more Type 1 Diabetes Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know
Choose from protein foods like:
- Nuts & seeds
When to see a doctor
Always visit your doctor if you have a severe wound or one that isn’t healing at all. If your wound is swollen, oozing, or has redness around it, you should seek medical attention right away since an infected wound can escalate quickly.
If your wound is also accompanied by new high blood sugar levels, it’s another sign you might have a wound infection and should consult with your healthcare provider.
When in doubt, you should seek medical advice, even if it’s a phone call to the nurse’s triage line.
The most important aspect of optimal wound healing among diabetic patients is good blood sugar control. Aside from managing your blood sugars, eating a diet rich in beneficial vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, practicing good skin care habits, and staying hydrated are all ways to naturally improve wound healing.
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