Dr. Andrew Weil created the anti-inflammatory food pyramid to help people make optimal food choices every day. 

What you eat today, walks and talks tomorrow. That’s a “sound bite” that Dr. Doug Kiburz, orthopedic surgeon, likes to use when counseling patients who are prepping for joint replacement surgery.

“I tell my patients that their food choices affect their health,” he said. “What we eat impacts how we feel today, tomorrow and in the future, and it affects how well someone may recover from surgery.” 

The Bothwell Orthopedics total joint replacement team, which includes physicians, nurses, aides, and physical and occupational therapists, wants their patients to be as surgery-ready as possible, which is why every patient is encouraged to attend “joint camp” before a total knee or total hip replacement. The camp focuses on enhanced patient education, exercises prior to surgery, and increased family involvement in care. 

“Joint camp has been a tremendous success,” Kiburz said. “Our complication rate is less than 1%, which is better than the national average, but we are always looking for ways to improve.”

About two months ago, a nutrition and diet component was added to the camp curriculum. Kiburz said that while it may appear that new research has brought nutrition to the forefront, the basic theory of health related to diet has been around for thousands of years. 

“As a student of history, I like to quote Herophilus, a 300 BC physician to Alexander the Great, ‘When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot become manifest, strength cannot be exerted, wealth is useless, and reason is powerless,’” he said.

The total joint replacement team now recommends that patients include a pre-surgery anti-inflammatory diet to improve their chances of recovering better and faster after surgery. 

“Studies have shown that this type of diet can prevent or reduce low-grade chronic inflammation, a key risk factor in health problems and several major diseases,” Kiburz said. “It’s also a healthy long-term plan for overall wellness for those who choose to continue it.” 

The typical anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. Foods high in sugar and fats and low in fiber top the no-no list. 

So why reduce inflammation? Unlike acute inflammation, which is a short-term response to an infection, fever or injury, chronic inflammation isn’t beneficial for the body. 

Chronic inflammation occurs when the immune system continually releases inflammatory chemicals that attack healthy cells. Common causes include chronic infections, genetics, environment and lifestyle, including stress, poor sleep and diet. 

Researchers have linked chronic inflammation to nearly every critical disease of aging, and when levels increase, so does the risk of serious health problems like heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, and allergies.

For patients with an already compromised immune system, Kiburz recommends additional “immunonutrition” in the form of vitamins and natural supplements, which has proved to help at least one of his patients. 

Judi Moore has rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disease, and had hip replacement surgery last October. Because she had to stop all of her medications before surgery, Kiburz was concerned about keeping Moore’s immune system in check before and after surgery. He recommended that she up her vitamin C intake and take a new supplement called Ricochet.

“I am very proactive about boosting my immune system,” Moore said. “Dr. Kiburz recommended Ricochet. I did my own research and talked to my rheumatologist and decided to try it, along with the joint education camp. I really feel like I recovered better, and this was my fourth joint replacement surgery.” 

Kiburz’s wife, Connie, was curious about the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet for personal reasons. She has a family history of heart disease and high blood pressure, and she’s suffered from worsening allergies since her teens. As a former nurse and nurse anesthetist, she has seen firsthand the dangers of poor health and diet on patient recovery. 

“Doug believes in the anti-inflammatory diet for his patients, so I wanted to try it for my own well-being,” she said. “Since trying it, my allergies are close to nonexistent, my skin has improved, and I have clearer thinking. I have lost pounds and inches, and I am sleeping extremely well and have incredible energy. I never would have believed it to be true, but it’s working for me.” 

In recent months, Kiburz has started conversations at Bothwell to have nutrition be a focus for all patients, not just his orthopedic surgical patients.  

“As much as 50% of hospitalized patients are malnourished, which leads to longer hospital stays, more complications, more readmissions, and higher costs,” he said. “Over 500 studies have shown that improved nutrition can decrease complications by 50%, shorten hospital stays, decrease infection rates by 78%, and lessen readmissions. If we can focus on nutrition and educate and empower patients about the value of a proper diet, we all win.” 

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