How to Build Up Your Immune System Before Surgery

Three Methods:Eating to Strengthen Your ImmunityRelaxing and Strengthening Your BodyReducing Risk the Week Before Surgery

It is good to start preparing for surgery as early as soon as you have your diagnosis. A strong immune system can help speed up your recovery and reduce your chances of complications. A healthy diet rich in important vitamins and minerals will bolster your health. It is also important to lower stress and build up strength. Be prepared to alter your regimen the week before your surgery, when you will have to take specific steps to prep your body for the operation. The most important thing to remember is to relax and follow your doctor's guidelines.

Method 1
Eating to Strengthen Your Immunity

  1. Image titled Build Up Your Immune System Before Surgery Step 1
    Find foods rich in Vitamin A. Vitamin A can boost your immunity while reducing the risk for infection.[1] You should look for foods that are high in this nutrient. This includes:
    • Carrots
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Pumpkin
    • Squash[2]
    • Beef liver
    • Beans[3]
  2. 2
    Eat vegetables and fruits high in Vitamin C. Vitamin C is another important vitamin for immunity, but you can get enough of it from your diet without having to take a supplement. Good foods include:
    • Citrus such as oranges and lemons
    • Spinach
    • Kale
    • Bell peppers
    • Brussels sprouts[4]
  3. 3
    Increase your Vitamin D intake. Some types of surgery, such as heart surgery and bariatric surgery, may contribute to Vitamin D deficiency.[5][6] Increasing your Vitamin D intake before surgery make help reduce this side effect. You can do this by taking a vitamin or by eating Vitamin D rich foods. Good foods include fortified milk products, fortified cereals, and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna.[7]
  4. 4
    Boost your iron levels. Iron is essential to help your blood carry oxygen. Taking iron supplements before surgery may reduce your risk of needing a blood transfusion. This is particularly true with surgeries such as joint or hip replacement.[8] You can take iron supplements once or twice a day.[9] You can also eat iron rich foods such as:
    • Meat
    • Eggs
    • Milk
    • Beans,
    • Lentils
    • Spinach
    • Peanut butter[10]
  5. 5
    Consume at least 1500mg of calcium daily. Calcium is important before surgery, especially if you are having bone surgery. You should have at least 1500 mg a day. You can get calcium from:
    • Milk products
    • Soy products
    • Broccoli
    • Almonds[11]

Method 2
Relaxing and Strengthening Your Body

  1. 1
    Listen to music. Music may relax the listener and reduce stress, both of which are vital in improving your immune system. Listening to calm, instrumental music in the days leading up to surgery may help with your recovery. You may also try doing social musical activities, such as drum circles or singing groups.[12]
  2. Image titled Build Up Your Immune System Before Surgery Step 3
    Try acupuncture. Patients who receive a series of acupuncture treatments prior to surgery may recover faster and with less pain.[13] This is because acupuncture may be able to boost white blood cell activity. You can try to schedule two to three sessions in the weeks before your surgery.
  3. Image titled Build Up Your Immune System Before Surgery Step 4
    Go to bed. Sleep is the body's way of rejuvenating itself. In the weeks leading up to your surgery, make sure that you get plenty of sleep to reinforce your immune system. Aim for at least seven to eight hours of rest a night.[14][15]
  4. Image titled Build Up Your Immune System Before Surgery Step 2
    Exercise regularly. Exercise may increase your white blood cell count. It may also prevent bacteria growth and lower stress. If you are inactive, you should start a moderate exercise program by working out every two to three days. If you exercise regularly already, you may not need to change your routine before going into surgery.[16] Good examples of moderate exercise include:
    • Biking
    • Twenty to thirty minute walks
    • Running on the treadmill
    • Yoga
  5. 5
    Quit smoking. While it is best for you to quit smoking entirely, you should at the very least avoid smoking for a week before you go into surgery. Smoking can interfere with your recovery by delaying wound healing and increasing your chances of infection.[17]

Method 3
Reducing Risk the Week Before Surgery

  1. 1
    Talk to your doctor. Depending on the specific type of surgery you are receiving, your doctor may have some recommendations for you to follow the week before you have surgery. Always consult with your doctor on your diet and habits before surgery. Some questions you may want to ask your doctor:
    • “Can I take all of my normal medications this week?”
    • “Are there any foods or supplements that might interfere with my surgery?”
    • “How should I prepare to heal after the surgery?”
    • “At what point should I stop eating and drinking?”
  2. 2
    Pause your intake of supplements. Between one and two weeks before your surgery, you should stop all natural herbal and vitamin supplements unless otherwise directed by your doctor. Some immune-boosting supplements such as calcium, iron, and vitamin D may still be taken with a doctor's approval.[18] You should avoid certain herbs that may increase your chance of bleeding, such as:
    • Turmeric
    • Willow Bark
    • Chamomile
    • Cod Liver Oil[19]
  3. 3
    Bathe or shower the night before. Depending on the type of surgery you have, you may not be able to wash properly for days. While nurses may give you a sponge bath, you should probably wash yourself the night before you go into surgery to help ensure that you are clean.[20]
  4. 4
    Drink clear liquids up to two hours before. Your doctor may tell you to stop eating and drinking after midnight the day of your surgery. This is to avoid complications with your anesthesia. In many cases, however, you may be allowed to drink clear liquids up to two hours beforehand. This liquid diet will provide some energy and sustenance before your surgery.[21] This is to prevent you from going on a total fast, which may hurt your immune system.[22] Some good clear liquids include:
    • Water
    • Gatorade
    • Broth
    • Ginger ale
    • Seltzer
    • Apple, cranberry, or grape juice. Avoid citrus drinks, prune juice, or any juice with pulp.[23]
    • Your doctor may recommend carbohydrate rich drinks such as Ensure or Pedialyte. In certain, specific medical cases, these drinks can boost the immune system before surgery.[24]


  • Always consult with your doctor before making a major dietary change.
  • Make sure that none of your medications interfere with certain vitamins or foods.
  • Follow your doctor’s guidelines for post-operative care. Even though the surgery is over, you will still be healing.


  • If you have an emergency surgery that will take place within one or two weeks of your diagnosis, you may not be able to boost your immune system significantly. Try to relax before your surgery. Get plenty of sleep. Do not start any new vitamin or exercise regimes.
  • Always consult with your doctor before starting any new health regimen.

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