Most of us know that woozy state right after undergoing anesthesia for surgery, or even a screening procedure such as colonoscopy. In most cases, the aftereffects of the anesthetic wear off within a few hours. But not everyone is so lucky. Some people don't metabolize drugs efficiently. An anesthetic can leave them feeling dizzy, weak, feverish, or disoriented for days afterward.
This is true with general anesthesia, which causes a temporary loss of bodily sensation and unconsciousness, or with regional or local anesthesia, which prevents you from feeling pain at the affected site while you remain awake. Especially for older patients, general anesthesia increases risk for declines in mental function, including difficulty concentrating and memory loss. This condition, known as postoperative cognitive dysfunction, affects as many as 40% of patients over age 65 for one to three months, while some experience the condition for six months or more.
What you may not know is that there are safe, effective ways to prepare for — and recover from — anesthesia. To minimize aftereffects and get back to normal more quickly, try these:
1. High-potency multivitamin and mineral formula.
If you don't take one already, start taking a high-potency multivitamin and mineral formula that provides a variety of nutrients, including at least 200 mg of vitamin C; 25,000 IU of beta-carotene; 22.4 IU of vitamin E; all the B vitamins, but especially B-6, folate, and B-12; and key minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and selenium. Take one each day for at least two weeks before and after undergoing anesthesia. Many of these nutrients have antioxidant properties that play an important role in the body's detoxification mechanisms that are facilitated by the liver. A multivitamin and mineral formula also contains many nutrients that help eliminate heavy metals and other toxic compounds, including anesthetics, from the body. These multivitamin and mineral formulas — usually labeled “high-potency” — are available at health food stores.
2. Milk thistle
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) promotes the body's detoxification process by preventing the depletion of glutathione, a natural antioxidant found in the liver. The concentration of this antioxidant is reduced when you're exposed to chemicals, including anesthetics. When glutathione levels decline, liver cells become more susceptible to damage. Milk thistle not only prevents the depletion of glutathione, but also has been shown in laboratory studies to increase the level of this potent antioxidant by up to 35%. Typical dose for milk thistle: 70 mg three times daily. Start taking it at least one week before surgery and continue to take it for at least two weeks afterward. Caution: Avoid milk thistle if you're allergic to plants in the ragweed family or have a history of hormone-related cancer, such as breast, uterine, or prostate, as milk thistle can affect hormone levels.
3. Lipotropic formulas
Lipotropic agents promote the flow of fat and bile to and from the liver. Used primarily as treatment for hepatitis, cirrhosis, and chemical-induced liver disease, these agents increase levels of two important liver substances — glutathione and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe).Most major manufacturers of nutritional supplements offer lipotropic formulas. These formulas are typically rich in choline and methionine, two important nutrients for the liver, along with supportive nutrients and/or herbals. Look for a supplement with a daily dose of 1,000 mg of choline and 1,000 mg of methionine. Begin taking it one week before and at least two weeks after surgery.
4. An anesthesia-recovery diet
If your body is recovering from anesthesia, steer clear of saturated fats, including meat and dairy (whey protein powder is a good protein alternative), refined sugar, and alcohol — all of which can increase risk for cholestasis (slowed or blocked flow of bile, which makes it harder for the body to eliminate fat-soluble toxins like anesthetics). A diet that's rich in dietary fiber — particularly water-soluble fiber — promotes bile secretion. Good sources of water-soluble fiber are pears, oat bran, apples, and legumes. It's also beneficial to eat vegetables from the cabbage family — especially broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage — as well as artichokes, beets and carrots. All of these foods contain compounds that aid in detoxification. Cinnamon and turmeric will also help you detox and recover from anesthesia. In addition, you should eat foods rich in sulfur, which helps the liver clear toxins, including garlic, onions and egg yolks.
Not getting enough fluids — especially water — makes it difficult for your body to eliminate toxins. A good goal for all times is six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water each day. Don't wait until you're thirsty to take a drink; by that time you'll already be mildly dehydrated. Take water breaks throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to have a glass of water every two waking hours.
Note: Prior to any surgical procedure, be sure to discuss with your doctor any drugs or supplements you take. The recommendations in this article are safe for most people, but many supplements increase bleeding risk or may interact with some anesthetics.