In practical terms, this translates to shaving about three days off the recovery time following a facelift or similar plastic surgery procedures.
"That really is dramatic, and frankly, I didn't expect it," says researcher Rod J. Rohrich, MD, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and chairman of plastic surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
"If you can translate this kind of faster healing after a facelift or a breast augmentation, you are talking about a cost savings in the recovery process and getting back to work sooner that could amount to billions [of dollars]," he tells WebMD.
In a small study, Rohrich and his colleagues at UT's Advanced Wound Healing and Tissue Regeneration Laboratory tested the effects of a new supplement called InflammEnz, available via the Internet but only with a doctor's prescription.
The result: Those getting InflammEnz healed 17% faster, and experienced less redness and swelling at the site of the biopsy.
A Magic Ingredient or Combination?
InflammEnz, an herbal product, contains seven different nutrients and enzymes, including calcium and potassium. But there are four in particular that are suspected of boosting the healing process noted in Rohrich's study:
- Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is required for the synthesis of collagen. It is also a highly effective antioxidant protecting cells from damage by free radicals. Studies have shown that the vitamin can help speed the healing process of wounds.
- Bromelain is an anti-inflammatory enzyme found in the stem of pineapple plants. It reduces muscle and tissue swelling especially following injuries or surgery.
- Rutin, a nutrient in plant foods, is believed to protect blood vessels, prevent bruising, and intensify the effect of vitamin C in the body.
- Grape seed extract , a popular health supplement that evidence shows may build new blood vessels and help vitamin C enter cells, strengthening cell membranes and prevent scarring in tissue.
"Obviously, more study is needed before we can routinely recommend this product to plastic surgeons to help their patients heal faster, but it certainly is promising," Rohrich tells WebMD. "The next step is to separate each of these four ingredients out to better determine which one is really providing the benefit, or if there is an synergetic effect in which all four or some combination of them work together."
His current study, published in the July issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, was funded by Enzymes, Inc. of Parkville, Mo., the company that manufactures InflammEnz.
Doctors Not Surprised
Two experts contacted by WebMD -- both members of the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians (AAPRP), which represents doctors that work professional and amateur boxing matches -- weren't surprised by these findings because they say the wound-healing properties of some of these ingredients are well-known ... and often used.
"As a plastic surgeon, I put all my patients on post-operative vitamin C because you need vitamin C to heal. I also recommend it to boxers following a fight," says Michael A. Fiorillo, MD, a New York City area plastic surgeon who serves as a spokesman for the AAPRP. "In fact, I'd recommend 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C to anyone with an open wound because there is evidence that it helps them heal faster."
The amount of vitamin C in an InflammEnz pill is 150 milligrams.
However, vitamin C is not routinely given to boxers before a fight because it can "thin" the blood similarly to aspirin, explains Ferdinand Louis Rios, MD, a general surgeon in California who is also with the AAPRP and once served as team doctor for the U.S. Olympic boxing team.
Rios also has given grape seed extract supplements to speed healing in his surgical and boxing patients, and Fiorillo says that using bromelain as a post-operative measure "has been around for a while, and seems to definitely promote healing."