Wishlist: Wolverine healing powers
December 20, 2011 12:18 PM   Subscribe

General tips on promoting healing, please.

I apologize if this has been asked before; a search in the archives didn't quite find me what I want.

All my life I've healed/recovered very poorly - I scar for everything, minor or major, and just heal slowly for absolutely everything else. Examples: pimples always lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and even smaller ones won't heal "properly" unless I pop them (yes, yes, I know, not great, but all the topical stuff would just flatten it 3/4 of the way and keep it there). I got a blood draw and an IV for an emergency room visit two weeks ago, and my arm is still bruised from the blood draw and I've a small patch of extra smooth skin where the needle went in for the IV that didn't heal "invisibly"; that part was tender for about a week after the visit. I once skinned my knee in grade 10 gym class and when it finally healed, that extra smooth patch of skin was there for at least a year. It takes me about a week to form a proper scab on a minor cut. I usually don't get sick more than average, I don't think, but it generally seems to hit me harder when I do and longer to recover. I remember cutting my fingertip in the kitchen once and when it finally healed, the tip was tender and ached randomly for weeks afterwards. Sprains and strains and bruises last forever. Etc.

It seems like I almost never heal my injuries quickly and/or invisibly, y'know?

I am 24, female, in general good health. 5'3", 113 lbs, fast metabolism (eat lots, burn it right off). I could use more fruits/veggies (I'm usually better about this, but the last weeks have been super stressful; then again, I've been bad at healing all my life so it's not just my diet the last few weeks) and more exercise. Exercise is something I'm intermittent at (was really gung-ho about it for about 5 months this year from June, slowed down a bit now; going back to the pool tomorrow. During the last three years, each year I've had a window of months which I was really gung-ho about exercise, but other than improving my mood and sleep quality I didn't feel much different, and certainly not in the healing department. This bad healing has been consistent through my years in which I had gym glass, too). I am not deficient in any vitamins or minerals that I'm aware of; every single blood test I've ever had had me solidly in the 'normal' category. Blood pressure is good, resting pulse is about 75 (not great, but average). Suspected I might have some deficiencies in something because I'm cold a lot, but nope, blood tests fine, I have good iron levels, etc. (Don't think it's my thyroid since I don't have any thyroid symptoms.) I get my designated 8 hours of sleep a night and drink a lot of water. Drink alcohol maybe 3 times a year, and about the same for coffee. My stress levels have varied throughout my life and it seems like my current levels are my "baseline"; previously when my stress levels were high and sleep/diet was poorer than now (e.g. exam time in school), I got sick even more and for even longer.

So it seems like my body just isn't very good at healing, period, full stop. (One wonders where all the calories I burn off goes, really.) Other than exercising more and eating more fruits/veggies, what else can I do to promote better healing/recovery overall? I'd like to improve my "baseline" when it comes to healing/recovery and overall health.
posted by Hakaisha to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Not a medical doctor, but have you considered taking a fish oil supplement? The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have been shown to help with inflammation, which might help you heal faster.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 12:27 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

As somebody who used to heal incredibly fast and then just suddenly got sick all the damn time, it took the removal of my tonsils, a major overhaul of my diet, and a look into fighting some low-grade depression to get me back into shape. My doctors didn't think anything of my slightly elevated WBC count until they actually placed my blood tests from the past year side by side and noticed that I ALWAYS have a minor infection, and a panel of allergists eventually determined that the antibiotics I had taken for acne years ago had ruined my intestines' ability to absorb nutrients properly so my body constantly thinks it can't process certain foods even though it totally can.

I think you should be persistent with your GP and ask for referrals to specialists. I'd even see a non-Western practitioner, which I'm sure a bunch of MeFites will poo-poo as BS, but this is YOUR body, and only you can make the decision as to what's a good option and what's not. You might have an autoimmune issue that's screwing with your ability to heal. Be well. I know that it sucks to not be able to heal yourself. Sleep lots, practice stress-management, and eat well, to, but it sounds like you've got those covered.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:31 PM on December 20, 2011

Regarding the easy/long-lasting bruising: is it possible you have a bleeding/clotting condition? Any family history of bleeding? In their mild forms, conditions like hemophilia, von Willebrand disease, etc. can cause some of the symptoms you're describing, and don't cause significant blood loss except in cases of surgery or trauma. (I have fibrinolysis, misdiagnosed as mild hemophilia for several years, and my bruising/scarring issues are similar to yours.)

These aren't things that will show up on standard bloodwork, by the way, so having normal blood results doesn't actually mean you don't have a bleeding issue unless your doctor specifically tests for it and can rule it out.
posted by scody at 12:31 PM on December 20, 2011

I'm always been a similarly sub-optimal healer, and have had great luck recently with Mederma. I'd recommend talking about what you've experienced with a (well-referenced) dermatologist, as well, to help identify other ways to make your skin more resilient.
posted by argonauta at 12:48 PM on December 20, 2011

Low platelets would explain both the bruising and slow healing:

Platelets, or thrombocytes (from Greek θρόμβος, "clot" and κύτος, "cell"), are small, irregularly shaped clear cell fragments (i.e. cells that do not have a nucleus containing DNA), 2–3 µm in diameter,[1] which are derived from fragmentation of precursor megakaryocytes. The average lifespan of a platelet is normally just 5 to 9 days. Platelets are a natural source of growth factors. They circulate in the blood of mammals and are involved in hemostasis, leading to the formation of blood clots. ...

Platelets release a multitude of growth factors including Platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), a potent chemotactic agent, and TGF beta, which stimulates the deposition of extracellular matrix. Both of these growth factors have been shown to play a significant role in the repair and regeneration of connective tissues. Other healing-associated growth factors produced by platelets include basic fibroblast growth factor, insulin-like growth factor 1, platelet-derived epidermal growth factor, and vascular endothelial growth factor. Local application of these factors in increased concentrations through Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) has been used as an adjunct to wound healing for several decades.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9]

(Which is a subcategory of scody's answer.)
posted by jamjam at 12:59 PM on December 20, 2011

topically, i use 100% aloe directly from an aloe plant or the store. never buy the green kind, its just added coloring and may irritate your skin. recommended highly for sunburn and acne scars. i've been using it all my life on my face to help moisturize and heal acne scars. really helps get them away.
posted by fuzzysoft at 1:04 PM on December 20, 2011

Do you get enough vitamin C? You need it for wound healing. It is water soluble and has to be replenished daily. I doubt you have been tested for it, certainly not with a routine blood test.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:33 PM on December 20, 2011

Stress can slow wound healing very dramatically. Anything you can do to reduce the stress in your life?
posted by mskyle at 1:43 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the best things you can do for yourself is put on some muscle; muscle mass has a persistent effect on healing, and it also makes it harder to just waste away when you are sick. If by "exercise" you just mean cardio, I'd seriously suggest adding some weight training -- even if you can only stick with it for 6 months or a year, if you make some progress on the compound lifts (squats, bench press, overhead press, deadlifts) I bet it'll make a big difference.
posted by vorfeed at 3:48 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Scody/jamjam: that actually sounds fairly plausible. My mother is also of the easily injured/bruised type; for her, splatters of hot oil during cooking will sometimes leave actual scars on skin (I'm not talking about second degree burns, here, just regular splatters that most people would shrug off). I've always figured it was just some quirk of genetics.

That said, even if I do test for somewhat low platelets or blood clotting ability, is there anything I can do about it? It's not affecting my life so drastically that I think a doctor would actually do anything about it. It's just immensely annoying.

I've always been kind of 'meh' about vitamins (mostly due to consensus that there's no real proven benefit unless I have a marked deficiency), but I'll put more effort into the vitamin C/fish oil route (both of which I have).

vorfeed: you're right, most of that is cardio. I am unfortunately accident prone (not even in the clumsy way, more like 'bad luck follows me' way and I am the victim of many unfortunate and hilarious injuries) and generally I stick to very gentle exercises. Although there has been weight training, it was mandatory (physiotherapy) with what most people would consider paperweight free weights (5-10 lbs). I have a previously busted knee (which still bothers me off and on, even after it's "healed") and a currently bum shoulder, both of which I'm loath to put through proper weight training. Would I be able to just get more muscle with consistent walking, cycling, or swimming, instead of actual (eep) weight training?
posted by Hakaisha at 9:36 PM on December 20, 2011

That said, even if I do test for somewhat low platelets or blood clotting ability, is there anything I can do about it? It's not affecting my life so drastically that I think a doctor would actually do anything about it. It's just immensely annoying.

Well, it's not so much that you can do something about it to improve it, necessarily, but knowing about it so that you can take precautions so that it doesn't get worse is pretty important. For example, you may need to avoid aspirin, ibuprofen, or other medications with blood-thinning properties, or you may require special medications before surgery or in case of trauma to prevent hemorrhaging. And because some bleeding/clotting issues have genetic components, if you had it you'd want to know in case there was a chance of passing it on to a child.
posted by scody at 10:37 PM on December 20, 2011

Oh, by the way: if you are interesting in finding out, the type of specialist you'll want to see is a hematologist. It took me three hematologists and several years to finally nail down my disorder, so there can occasionally be some detective work involved. My bleeding disorder apparently had been running in my family for generations, but no one thought to check into it till I nearly bled to death (surprise!) during surgery about seven years ago.
posted by scody at 10:40 PM on December 20, 2011

Response by poster: Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, although my mother's healing factor seems just as shitty as mine, she has undergone at least two (maybe it's three) surgeries and no doctor seemed to have raised an eyebrow at her healing capacities.
posted by Hakaisha at 10:46 PM on December 20, 2011

On the herbal side of things, arnica has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, and thus is used for healing, more for sprains, strains, and bruises rather than skin lesions. Zinc supplements can help with the wound healing bit, and with immune function as well.
posted by margoc19 at 4:53 AM on December 21, 2011

I wouldn't worry about the IV bruise-- often times a bad draw can leave a good amount of blood behind, and that can take a long time to clear up. As for the skin above it, it really shouldn't heal invisibly. The needle punctured the basement membrane under your skin, and any time you disrupt the BM you can end up with imperfect healing. Even if it hadn't (as was probably the case when you scraped your knee), mature, healed skin (which can take months/years to completely scab, scar, and heal) often only have about 50% of the strength and elasticity of uninjured skin.

Now, this isn't to try and invalidate your concerns-- based on the general pattern of healing you've described I reckon you should mention it to your primary care provider next time you see her. I would just avoid doing things like taking vitamin C megadoses (you probably get more than enough already, and there's inconsistent evidence for the value of taking more than your RDA) or other similar things without first identifying a clear etiology.
posted by The White Hat at 7:04 AM on December 21, 2011

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