Integrative Approaches and Surgery
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Natural Products and Surgery: What You Need to Know
Before surgery, your surgeon and anesthesiologist will want to know what drugs and supplements/natural products you’re taking. If they don’t ask about natural products or supplements, you need to tell them about any you’re taking. Reasons for this:
- Usually you are told to stop eating and drinking at midnight before your surgery. There may be some pills you still need to take, and your doctors will tell you which ones to take with a small amount of water.
- Some intended effects, as well as side effects and interactions of drugs and natural products, can increase the risk for complications during or shortly after surgery. Examples:1
- Anticoagulants—drugs and supplements that “thin the blood”—can increase your risk of bleeding.
- Drugs or supplements with sedative effects may interact with your anesthesia or sedatives and increase the time to wake up after surgery.
- Some products might interfere with your ability to clear the anesthesia and other drugs from your system.
- Others might suppress your immune system.
Many more interactions are possible. Follow your medical team’s directions.
Natural Products to Avoid before Surgery
Some general guidelines regarding stopping natural products before surgery:
- Tell you surgeon and anesthesiologist about all drugs, natural products and supplements that you are taking.
- The American Society of Anaesthesiologists advises patients to stop taking herbal medicines at least two weeks before surgery.2
- Several integrative oncology physicians are more specific about which to stop and when. These lists are not all-inclusive, so be sure to tell you doctor of all products you are taking.
Two Weeks before Surgery
Avoid taking the following natural products or pharmaceuticals that increase your risk of bleeding:3
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
Five to Ten Days before Surgery
Stop cleansing and detoxification regimens and stop taking natural products that affect your liver’s ability to clear anesthesia, sedatives, pain medications, and other surgical drugs.4
Products Recommended before Surgery
Some drugs and supplements—including nutritional food supplements—might be recommended to help “build you up” before surgery as well as help your tissues heal after surgery. For recommendations of natural products to take before surgery, see the following protocols, programs and plans:
- Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Care. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009. Chapter 22, The Surgical Support Program.
- Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. 2010. Chapter 6, Supporting Your Body during Conventional Treatment; see the section on “Support before and after surgery”.
- MacDonald B. The Breast Cancer Companion: A Complementary Care Manual: Third Edition. (self-published, Amazon, 2016). Chapter 4, Preparing for Surgery, and Appendix 2, Handout on Preparing for Breast Cancer Surgery with Naturopathic Medicine.
For more information on the implications of taking herbal medicines just before, during and after surgery, see The peri-operative implications of herbal medicines.5
Other Therapies and Surgery
Randomized studies indicate that guided imagery and other mind-body therapies can reduce or eliminate emotional and physical side effects of surgery and other treatments:
- Relaxation with guided imagery and other mind-body techniques have been highly effective in reducing anxiety before, during and after surgery in both adults and children.6
- Guided imagery can significantly reduce pain and the need for pain medication post-operatively.7
- One study found patients undergoing elective colorectal surgical procedures who used guided imagery experienced considerably less preoperative and postoperative anxiety and pain and used 50 percent fewer narcotics after surgery compared to patients receiving routine perioperative care..8 Another small study found that “patients who achieved a meaningful improvement in pain with analgesic imagery reported greater imaging ability, more positive outcome expectancy, and fewer concurrent symptoms than those who did not achieve a meaningful reduction in pain.”9
- Guided imagery and suggestion reduces the time for patients’ bowels to return to normal functioning after surgery,10
Read more in Guided Imagery.
Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS; with review by Nancy Hepp, MS ; most recent update on March 2, 2020.