Preparing for Surgery the Natural Way


Everyone comes to the point of necessary surgery at some time in their life. It is one of the most amazing talents of allopathic medicine and also one of the most potentially damaging. Understanding the do’s and don’ts of natural healing can really enhance the surgical experience while speeding the healing and recovery time so you can return to optimal health... When we face surgery, we may not realize that there are numerous things in the natural world that can help us to prepare for the surgical experience while also helping us on the path to recovery afterwards. Sometimes, even eliminating our regular routine of vitamins and herbs before surgery can minimize risk and maximize our health.

First, let’s begin with the things to eliminate prior to surgery: One to two weeks prior to and after surgery, you will generally have to discontinue all aspirin and other medications that will interfere with your ability to clot and with your normal pain reactions. In the natural world, this includes White Willow Bark or Saligesic (Salicylic Acid) as well as Dan Shen, Yarrow, Ginger, Garlic, Dong Quai, Tienchi Ginseng, Feverfew, Andrographis, Ginkgo, Korean Ginseng, Turmeric, Stephania, Cayenne, Gotu Kola and Green Tea. Now obviously many of these things are also foods, so in small edible quantities, they should be fine. But the ingestion of these as herbal concentrated extracts can definately have an antiplatelet or anticoagulant action within the body.

Now, there are also a group of herbs which may potentially have an interaction with aspects of your surgical procedure and so you may want to discontinue them prophylactically or tell your physician so that they are aware that you have been taking them for some time.

St. John’s Wort has a mild monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitory effect and so may intensify the effect of any anesthesia. This is also true of Yohimbe and Licorice. The Ginseng family is not only mentioned above as an antiplatelet herb, but may also produce episodes of hypertension and tachycardia (rapid heartbeat). Aloe Vera may actually lower your potassium levels, while as a topical agent can cause contact dermatitis in some cases. Melatonin has been shown to decrease the amount of anesthesia needed for surgery, which can be a good thing as long as your anesthesiologist knows this.

The couple of months before surgery are an excellent time to really build your immune system and balance its action. You really want to be able to minimize allergic symptomology, reduce histamine levels and modulate any chronic inflammatory response that you may have. Supporting the adrenals and the liver are essential for this, which can be done with a great blend I have used for years. It consists of Schisandra, Milk Thistle, Rehmannia, Eleuthero, Ashwaganda, Echinacea Angustifolia, Echinacea Purpurea, Albizia, Baical Skullcap, Globe Artichoke and Nettle Leaf. This can really help to support your immune system and prepare it for working with your surgery instead of against it. Then about three weeks before surgery, I suggest a strong whole food Vitamin C supplement to really provide all the building blocks needed by the immune system for optimal function.

Concurrently, I recommend a complex of Cat’s Claw, Pau D’Arco and Goldenseal to cleanse the body of pathogens, such as bacteria, fungus and viral material which can help to minimize the chance of post-operative infection. Be sure to add a good acidophilus powder into your daily routine as well for the two weeks before surgery. This is something you can take even up to the few days before surgery, as this natural bacteria is already a strong immune protector inherently present in your intestinal tract.

In your lifestyle, you will want to abstain from alcohol, caffeine, sugar, drugs and tobacco in the month before surgery so as to ensure that all of your body systems are working at their optimal levels. I also suggest to my patients that this is a good time for a cleanse, even a short seven day one at least two weeks before surgery. Also making sure to drink lots of water to increase your hydration of the tissues, can really minimize the amount of tissue damage that you may experience.

Topically, I recommend applying vitamin E oil to the entire area where the surgical incision will be made. I even will suggest blending this with goldenseal for its antibacterial properties.

Food is also the best way to prepare for surgery. Increase your intake of leafy green vegetables and fruits that contain high levels of antioxidants and vitamins essential to healthy blood production. Limit the amount of starchy foods that you ingest, and reduce milk products for less mucous in the body as a whole.

Once you have completed surgery, the first order of business is absolutely nothing. That’s right... the concept of convalescence is essential to prevent autoimmune reactions, reduce stress hormone levels and to potentiate the effectiveness of post-surgical medication. Bed rest, sleep, naps, snoozes.. get the picture?

Next, as soon as your doctor feels it is appropriate, consider the following herbs to get you up on your feet. Gotu Kola is the general healing herb for all organ distress within the body. Echinacea Purpurea and Echinacea Angustifolia will help to modulate the function and action of the immune system and prevent autoimmune issues from developing. Nettle Leaf has the highest level of minerals within the herb world, but also has a mild diuretic effect. I suggest a great blood-building tonic that I blend for my patients of Codonopsis, Nettle Leaf, Ashwaganda, Licorice and Ginger with iron and vitamins added from food. This will prevent post-operative anemia. Supporting the adrenals and liver again are great, so I suggest recommencing my pre-operative tonic for at least one month following surgery.

There are even therapies post-surgically that can give you amazing results. Chromatherapy light is a completely non-invasive technique to speed the healing of the skin and the underlying tissues. This can be done even days after surgery and can lessen the chance of severe scarring long before any topical treatments can be done. FAR Infrared Sauna is another great thing post-surgically for antibacterial action and for modulating the metabolism of the skin as it is healing. Massage Therapy can increase venous blood flow by up to 400% and enhance the lymphatic system for reduction of swelling and pain. There are even numerous energetic techniques that can be done immediately after surgery without interfering with dressings or stitches and can bring an immense sense of relief from post-surgical pain and discomfort.

So please be sure to discuss all of your natural options with your doctor so there are no unexpected results from combining natural and allopathic treatments. In this way, your surgical experience can be an optimal way to regain your perfect health.

Dr. Karen Clickner is the Founder and Director of ISIS Holistic Clinic & The Waters of ISIS Body Purification Spa in Brookline, MA with offices in London and Geneva. She is a Certified Medical Herbalist and a Certified Naturopathic Physician. She can be reached by e-mail at