Top 8 Nutrients for Wound Healing

Having an overall healthy diet rich in nutrients, protein, and calories is essential for wound healing.  Knowing the right nutrients for wound healing can help to speed up the process,  resulting in improved health and quality of life.

As a Registered Dietitian who has worked in wound care for over 8 years, I have done my fair share of research on the topic.  Here are my top recommendations for how to get the right nutrients to heal a wound faster.  

nutrients for wound healing

How Does Good Nutrition Help Wound Healing?

If someone is malnourished, you will never get a wound healed.  Protein and in most cases extra calories and fluid are needed for a wound to heal.  This is because the body needs more than maintenance calories in order to provide the nutrients to heal the skin integrity.  

During wound healing your body is working overtime in order to keep the body maintaining it’s function.  But it is also trying to divert resources in the way of calories and protein in order to heal up the broken skin.  If the wound is infected, that takes even more energy.

By providing your body with the essential nutrients it needs, it is giving it a fighting chance to heal the wound.

Eat a Variety of Healthy Foods

There are certain nutrients that increase the rate of wound healing, reduce the wound size, and prevent malnutrition.  You can get these nutrients by eating a variety of healthy foods such as meats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  

Let’s take a closer look at the specific nutrients that help with wound healing.  All recommendations given are from the National Pressure Injury Advisory Panel, the leading organization on wound healing.

Calories Needed

Caloric intake is critically important for wound healing in older adults. Healing requires a significant amount of energy.  As we age, our metabolic processes slow down, and the body becomes less efficient in utilizing nutrients.  Adequate calories ensure that the body has enough energy to carry out the complex processes involved in wound healing.  Such as cell regeneration, immune response, and inflammation control. 

Older adults often face challenges like reduced appetite or dietary restrictions, which can lead to a caloric deficit. This deficit can impede the body’s ability to heal, as it might start using muscle and other tissues for energy.  This can lead to further weakening the body and delaying the healing process. Ensuring an adequate caloric intake is a key component of effective wound management in the older adult population.

The amount of calories needed to provide additional energy for wound healing will depend on the stage of wound.  But no matter what stage it is, there will be additional calories needed.

Specifically in older adults it is recommended that their calories be increased in order to aid in wound healing.  The current recommendation is to start with 30-35 kilocalories per kilogram of body weight daily.  

If someone is malnourished prior to the wound, they may need an increase in calories from the 30-35 kcal range.

Protein Needed

Protein plays a crucial role in wound healing, especially for older adults. As we age, our bodies become less efficient at repairing and regenerating tissues, making adequate protein intake vital. 

Protein is a key building block for skin, muscle, and other tissues; it’s necessary for the creation of collagen, which is essential for wound repair and strength. Protein also helps in the formation of new blood vessels and supports the immune system, which is essential for fighting off infections that can complicate wound healing.  

Older adults often have reduced protein stores due to factors like decreased appetite, altered metabolism, or chronic diseases, making it even more important to ensure sufficient protein intake for optimal wound healing.

Protein recommendations are to start between 1.0-1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.  This is for the older adult population.  If an older adult has a chronic or acute disease, the recommendation is to go between 1.2-1.5 grams per kilogram body weight daily.

High Protein Foods

Here are some great high protein foods that can be offered to aid in wound repair.

High Protein FoodAmount of ProteinServing Size
Peanut Butter7 grams2 tablespoons
Avocado2 grams1/2 avocado
Nuts (Almonds, Walnuts, Cashews)6-7 grams1 ounce (about 23 almonds, 14 walnut halves, or 18 cashews)
Cheese (Cheddar)7 grams1 ounce
Whole Milk8 grams1 cup
Granola4-6 grams1/2 cup
Greek Yogurt (Full-fat)10 grams100 grams
Salmon23 grams3 ounces
Eggs6 grams1 large egg
Beef (Ground, 85% lean)22 grams3 ounces
Chicken Breast26 grams3 ounces
Tofu (Firm)10 grams1/2 cup
Quinoa8 grams1 cup cooked
Lentils18 grams1 cup cooked
Olive Oil0 grams1 tablespoon
Dark Chocolate2-3 grams1 ounce
Trail Mix (with nuts and dried fruits)6-8 grams1/2 cup
Whole Grain Bread3-4 grams1 slice
Cottage Cheese14 grams1/2 cup
Protein Shake (Commercial)Varies1 shake (container size varies)

Importance of Fluids

Adequate fluid intake is crucial for wound healing in older adults, as it facilitates nutrient and oxygen transport to the wound, supports cell regeneration, and maintains skin elasticity. 

Older adults are particularly susceptible to dehydration, which can impede wound healing and increase infection risk. Ensuring sufficient hydration, through water, fluid-rich foods, or medical interventions, is essential for efficient wound repair and overall health in this demographic.

Aim to achieve a fluid goal of at least 1 millilitre per kilocalorie daily.

Vitamins and Minerals

colourful vitamins.

Vitamins and minerals play a pivotal role in the wound healing process, acting as essential cofactors in cellular functions and immune responses. These micronutrients are critical in every stage of wound repair, from inflammation and cell proliferation to tissue remodeling. 

A deficiency in key vitamins and minerals can significantly delay healing and increase the risk of infection. Understanding the specific roles and sources of these nutrients is vital for optimizing wound recovery, particularly in vulnerable populations such as older adults or those with chronic conditions.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is highly recommended for effective wound healing due to its critical role in promoting cell growth, immune function, and inflammation regulation. It aids in the early inflammatory phase of wound healing and is essential for the synthesis of collagen, a vital component of skin and scar tissue. 

For wound healing purposes, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of Vitamin A may vary based on individual health conditions, age, and dietary habits.  But typically ranges from 700 to 900 micrograms per day for adults. 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is crucial for wound healing, primarily due to its role in collagen synthesis, a key protein required for skin repair and wound closure. It also acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting cells from damage during the healing process and enhancing the immune response. 

Vitamin C aids in the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis), which is essential for bringing nutrients and oxygen to the wound site. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for Vitamin C in adults is 75 mg per day for women and 90 mg per day for men.  With an increased need in those recovering from injuries or surgeries. It’s important to obtain this vitamin through diet or supplements, as the human body cannot produce it. 

Zinc

Zinc is another essential mineral for wound healing, playing a significant role in various aspects of cellular repair and immune function. It is crucial for the proliferation and migration of cells necessary for tissue regeneration and also aids in the synthesis of collagen. 

Zinc’s anti-inflammatory properties help reduce wound healing time and its role in maintaining skin integrity is vital in preventing and treating skin injuries.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for zinc is 11 mg per day for men and 8 mg per day for women, with slightly higher needs for individuals with wounds, as zinc is utilized rapidly during the healing process.

Arginine

Arginine, an amino acid, plays a significant role in wound healing, particularly due to its involvement in protein synthesis and its function as a precursor to nitric oxide, a compound essential for blood flow regulation and immune response. 

Enhanced blood flow ensures the efficient delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the wound site, crucial for tissue repair and regeneration. Arginine also stimulates collagen production, vital for wound strength and integrity.

Though there’s no specific recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for arginine, its increased demand during wound healing is well-recognized.

Glutamine

Glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in the body, is crucial for wound healing, particularly in states of stress or injury. It plays a key role in cell proliferation, supports the immune system, and serves as a fuel source for cells involved in the healing process, including fibroblasts and lymphocytes. 

Glutamine is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of the gut barrier, which is vital in preventing infection and complications during the healing process.

While there is no established recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for glutamine, its supplementation can be particularly beneficial in critical care and post-surgery patients, where endogenous glutamine production may not meet the increased demands imposed by stress and injury.

a woman holding out her hand with a gauze wound wrap being placed on by a woman who appears to be a nurse.

Supplements to Promote Wound Healing

Pro-stat for Wound Healing

Pro-Stat is a nutrition supplement drink to promote wound healing in Stage 3 and Stage 4 PIs. It contains an amino acid blend, and is a high protein formulation. It can be a better option than other oral nutrition supplements (ONS) because of the fruit juice flavors available and formulations.

Recommended dosage is 1-3 servings/day at 30 mL per serving (individualise).  

Role of Collagen in Wound Healing

Collagen is a protein in the body and when a PI happens, the collagen needs to reform the skin. Using Juven, nutrition supplement powder, promotes collagen formation.  There are clinical studies on the effectiveness of adding this to a nutrition care plan. Clinical studies have shown the effectiveness in as little as 2 weeks.  

Recommended dosage (individualize) is 2 packets per day mixed with 8 ounces.    

Wound Healing Supplement Drink

Another recommendation is ONS drinks.  Examples include Resource 2.0, Ensure High Protein, or you can develop a high protein/high calorie smoothie for your facility. If you’re going the ONS route, these can be administered at MedPass and dosage will depend on intake, weight, and stage of PI. 

But the typical starting dosage would be 60 mL three times per day.

Sample Nutrition Care Plan Interventions

Stage 1 and Stage 2 Pressure Injury

1.2-1.5 g/kg BW of protein
30-35 kcal/kg BW
Adjust 5-10 kcal/kg BW for Obese
30 mL/kg BW fluid daily, minimum 1500 mL 

Individualise those with Renal and fluid retention issues.

If you cannot meet the requirements through a food first approach, then look at the nutrition supplementation listed above.

Stage 3 and Stage 4 Pressure Injury

1.5-2.0 g/kg BW of protein
30-40 kcal/kg BW
Adjust as necessary
35 mL/kg BW fluid daily, minimum 1500 mL

Individualise those with Renal and fluid retention issues.

If you cannot meet the requirements through a food first approach, then look at the nutrition supplementation listed above.

Diabetes and Wound Healing

Diabetes significantly impacts wound healing, particularly in the older adult population. This effect is primarily due to the chronic high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes, which can lead to several complications that impede the body’s natural healing processes.

One of the key challenges in diabetic wound healing is impaired blood circulation. High glucose levels can cause damage to blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the wound site. This reduction in blood flow limits the oxygen and nutrients necessary for healing, slowing down the repair process. 

Nerve damage (neuropathy), a common complication of diabetes, can also lead to a loss of sensation, making it harder for older adults to notice and promptly address wounds, especially on extremities like feet.

The immune system in individuals with diabetes, particularly older adults, may also be compromised, leading to a decreased ability to fight infections. Even minor wounds can quickly become serious infections in diabetic patients. The presence of chronic inflammation in diabetic patients can further delay the healing process.

Older adults with diabetes often have other comorbid conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease, or kidney problems, which can complicate and slow wound healing. 

Management strategies in these patients focus on maintaining good glycemic control, regular monitoring for any wounds or signs of infection, and ensuring adequate nutrition and hydration to support the healing process. 

Special attention to foot care, given the high risk of foot ulcers in diabetic patients, is crucial. In many cases, a multidisciplinary approach involving healthcare providers, dietitians, and wound care specialists is necessary to effectively manage and treat wounds in older adults with diabetes.

Wound Healing and End of Life Care

In end-of-life care, managing wounds presents a unique challenge, as the focus often shifts from aggressive healing strategies to ensuring patient comfort and quality of life. 

The primary goal becomes managing symptoms such as pain, odor, and exudate, rather than healing the wound itself. This approach requires a delicate balance between respecting the patient’s wishes and providing appropriate care. 

Healthcare providers must work closely with the patient, family, and palliative care team to develop a care plan that aligns with the patient’s preferences and overall care goals. This may involve using less invasive treatments and prioritizing measures that maximize comfort and dignity.  While also considering the emotional and psychological impacts of wound care at this sensitive stage.

Wound Healing and Renal Disease

In patients with renal disease, wound healing can be particularly challenging due to factors like impaired immune function, reduced blood flow, and potential nutritional deficiencies. 

The management of wounds in these patients requires a careful balance between the therapeutic goals of wound healing and the individual’s overall care plan, especially when considering the complexities of renal disease management. 

It is crucial to align wound care strategies with the patient’s choices and their broader health status. This can involve temporarily going above protein recommendations to slightly higher to heal the wound quickly.

We do have a great podcast on this particular topic that reviews a research paper.  There is no one right answer to the question unfortunately.  It will come down to allowing the patient to make the decision about what is right for their health.  But informing them of all the risks and benefits with each choice.

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Michelle Saari is a Registered Dietitian based in Canada. She has a Master's Degree in Human Nutritional Sciences and is a passionate advocate for spreading easy to understand, reliable, and trustworthy nutrition information. She is currently a full time online entrepreneur with two nutrition focused websites.

2 thoughts on “Top 8 Nutrients for Wound Healing”

  1. It’s good that you explained how your body is exerting extra effort to mend wounds so that it can continue to operate. However, you warned that in an attempt to mend the torn skin, it is also attempting to redirect resources in the form of calories and protein. I will share this with my uncle who is on a mission to find a wound care physician for my diabetic aunt after a recent injury. She accidentally bumped her leg, and what seemed like a minor bruise turned into a real headache. With diabetes in the mix, any wound can be tricky. They’re smart enough to figure out that they need to find a wound care physician who can navigate the complexities of diabetes and ensure my aunt’s injury heals without any complications.

    1. Hi Lily,

      Thanks for the comment! You’re right that Diabetic wounds are much more complex than wounds in people without Diabetes. People with Diabetes have altered blood flow, and depending on the other health complexities they have, Diabetic wounds can be difficult to resolve. Thankfully there are many who specialize in Diabetic wounds/ulcers. It’s important to work with a Physician and Dietitian that has expertise in the area, because in most cases they can be resolved. Glad to hear your loved ones found an expert to help them!

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