Protein-Free Diet May Make Surgery Less Risky—January 25, 2012

Doctors usually tell their patients not to eat or drink the night before surgery. But there’s new evidence that food consumed weeks before an operation could affect how the body responds to the stress of an operation.

A new study found that mice fed a protein-free diet seemed to be protected from complications after surgery. The findings could give scientists new insight into how to prevent common complications from surgery.

Harvard researchers studied two groups of mice, feeding one group a protein-free diet for up to two weeks before surgery, and letting the other group eat normally. The researchers then operated on the mice, using techniques that put their kidneys and livers under added stress.

About 40 percent of the mice who ate normally died after the surgery; all of the mice on the protein-free diet survived.

Previous studies in animals have shown that restricting the diet is one way to help the body cope with stress and stay healthy.

Although the study tested only mice, the trauma their bodies experienced after the surgery is similar to what humans can experience, said Dr. Stavros Memtsoudis, an anesthesiologist and critical care medicine specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

“But the human body is very complex, more complex than mice. How one change affects all other organs is very unknown,” Memtsoudis said. “Nevertheless, this opens up a whole new concept that should be investigated. Nutrition is a very nuanced intervention before surgery that should be paid attention to.”

The study is among the first to suggest that diet changes in the weeks before surgery can be as important as what patients eat in the days immediately beforehand.

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