Do You Have a Vitamin Deficiency If Skin Sores Don't Heal?


Skin that’s not healing could be due to a nutrient deficiency. Focus on foods that contain protein, vitamin C, vitamin A and zinc when trying to boost your body’s wound-healing ability.

Impairment in Wound Healing

Skin sores that don't heal may occur on people who are bedridden or in wheelchairs, such as the case with pressure sores or bedsores. These skin sores develop at places where the bones sit close to the skin, particularly at the ankles, back, heels, elbows and hips. Those with diabetes are also particularly vulnerable to sores on their feet that can take weeks or months to heal, explains the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Protein and Skin Not Healing

The Advances in Wound Care paper notes that patients who are under metabolic stress or recovering from surgical procedures have increased protein needs of 1 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight, depending on the individual case. This is equal to 0.45 to 0.9 grams per pound of body weight, since a kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds.

The elderly are particularly susceptible to protein deficiency during wound healing, contributing to an increase in skin fragility, decreased immune function, poor healing and longer recovery after injury or illness.

Protein foods to include when you have skin that's not healing include:

  • Meats, such as lean steak, chicken, fish and seafood
  • Soy protein, such as tofu, tempeh and soy nuts
  • Beans and legumes, such as lentils, black beans and chickpeas
  • Dairy, especially milk and Greek yogurt

Vitamin C and Wound Healing

Extra vitamin C is recommended in patients with wounds due to the central role it plays in collagen metabolism and in reducing inflammation. Collagen is a protein that's an essential component of connective tissue and plays a key role in wound healing, explains the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. When vitamin C deficiency progresses, collagen synthesis declines and wound healing becomes more difficult for your body.

True vitamin C deficiency is uncommon in developed countries, but vitamin C inadequacy can occur, especially in people who smoke, who have limited food variety (such as the elderly) and who have certain chronic diseases and malabsorption issues.

Foods that contain ample vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits and citrus juice
  • Strawberries
  • Baked potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli and cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage

Vitamin A and Sores

Vitamin A plays a unique role in the management of wound healing in people who are on corticosteroids. If you take these medications to reduce inflammation due to a disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, they can impair your body to heal skin sores. However, extra vitamin A can counteract the negative effects of corticosteroids on wound healing, notes the paper in Advances in Wound Care.

Vitamin A foods include:

  • Dark leafy green vegetables, such as kale and Swiss chard
  • Orange or yellow vegetables, such as carrots and winter squash
  • Cantaloupe
  • Liver
  • Fortified dairy products and fortified cereals

Zinc Helps Healing Too

Like vitamin C, zinc also plays an important role in collagen development and reduction of inflammation.

The research in Advances in Wound Care notes that decreased zinc levels compromise the abilities of cells involved in wound healing. Without enough zinc, your immunity is impaired and you're at an increased susceptibility of infection. Plus, you don't produce collagen as efficiently, delaying sores from closing and healing.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests eating foods such as whole grains, eggs and dairy to get the zinc you need. Meats and seafood are other sources.

Implementing Good Nutrition

Getting the calories and nutrients you need for optimal wound healing can be hard if you have a small appetite or just can't tolerate large meals. The Cleveland Clinic recommends you try eating five to six small meals per day, rather than trying for three large ones. Grazing between meals on nutritious foods also stokes your nutrition. Snacks to include are:

  • Yogurt and strawberries or cantaloupe
  • A glass of milk
  • Vegetables dipped in hummus

If you find you just can't get the nutrients or calories you need on your own, talk to your doctor about possible supplements to support your healing goals.

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