Rebuilding the Burned Bridges with Nutrition
As the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. This is extremely accurate when it comes to burn injuries, where nutrition is a critical part of the treatment. While recovering from burn injuries, you can literally eat your way back to good health.
The Nathan Speare Regional Burn Treatment Center is the only burn facility in suburban Philadelphia providing comprehensive treatment for pediatric and adult burn patients and their families. Registered dietitians at Crozer Health play an essential role in patients’ recovery from burns.
The severity of a patient’s burn injury can be usually estimated by the total body surface area (TBSA) percentage burned. The higher the percentage of TBSA is, the higher the nutrition needs are. In addition to TBSA percentage, factors like height, weight, and age also play a role in deciding the estimated nutritional needs of the burned patient.
Adequate nutrition not only promotes burn and wound healing, but also reduces the damaging loss of lean body mass, decreases the inflammatory response, and reduces the rate of infection, the need for antibiotic therapy, and the hospital length of stay. In general, a diet rich in protein, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals is prescribed.
A Closer Look at Macronutrients
- Carbohydrates are an essential energy source in healing burns. However, it is important not to go overboard with them, since too many carbohydrates may lead to hyperglycemia which can cause glucose tolerance issues. Roughly 400-700 grams per day is adequate amount of carbohydrates.
- Protein plays a huge role in healing and helps to rebuild lost muscle, so a high protein diet is a MUST for a burn patient. Depending on the TBSA percentage, patients could need anywhere from 1.5 to 4g per kg ideal body weight each day.
- Fat should be about 10-30 percent of the total energy requirement. Since burn patients are often receiving lipid-based medication such as Propofol, medication can significantly contribute to the fat provision.
Role of Micronutrients
Vitamins and minerals are as essential as macronutrients. To put it another way, micronutrients are the supporting characters without which the film would be incomplete. Vitamins and minerals support the functions of macronutrients and also promote burn wound healing when provided in adequate amounts and for an adequate time. Vitamins A, C, and D, and minerals zinc and copper play important roles in healing burns in conjunction with other vitamins and minerals that are also essential.
Fluids serve as the solvent for minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and glucose. Therefore, maintaining our patients’ fluid and electrolyte balance is also important when treating burns.
In some patients who are unable to consume adequate nutrients (at least 60 percent of the estimated nutritional needs) orally, alternative nutrition methods, such as IVs or feeding tubes, should be considered.
Healing through Nutrition
Burn injuries can be very traumatic and make a patient feel like they have little control over what is happening to their body. However, the patient can feel control over and look forward to the nutrition element of their recovery.
Every time you eat, you nourish and heal your body. As the famous health and wellness author Mary Buchan, R.N., says: “What you find at the end of your fork is more powerful than anything you’ll find at the bottom of a pill bottle.“