Optimizing nutrition before surgery can help to improve outcomes for patients

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The days leading up to a surgery can be unnerving, and many patients don’t know how to properly prepare, either mentally or physically.

A new initiative at UCLA Health that is focused on pre-surgery nutrition aims to change that.

The initiative is called Nutrition for Safer Surgeries. “The goal is to allow patients to be optimized prior to their surgeries and enable them to have a safer surgery,” said Shelby Yaceczko, RD, an advanced-practice dietitian at the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukiam Division of Digestive Diseases, who developed the program.

Nutrition is key

Surgeries must sometimes be postponed because patients are malnourished. Through the Nutrition for Safer Surgeries program, Yaceczko will work with patients, who are screened ahead of time, to ensure they are nutritionally optimized prior to their procedure.

“We want to make sure that our patients are at a place nutritionally that will lead to a better surgery outcome for them,” she said.

Yaceczko said each patient’s diet will be tailored with nutritional foods that they enjoy but geared to get them healthy and in the best condition prior to surgery. Nutritional preparation will take from two weeks to three months, depending on the patient’s condition.

“Literature shows that the ideal prep time is three months,” Yaceczko said. “When we delay surgeries and prepare patients who are considered high risk, it’s actually better for those patients because they now have more time to become healthy and fully optimized before surgery.”

Currently, the program is being implemented for patients who will undergo surgery for cancer.

Yaceczko said she hopes to eventually see it made available to all UCLA Health surgery patients.

“I see this initiative as something that can be implemented throughout the Department of Surgery,” she said.

A multidisciplinary approach

“I love the interdisciplinary aspect of this,” Yaceczko said. “The surgeons recognize that there are many other pieces that must fall in place for their patients to experience the best possible outcome. There are multiple disciplines involved.”

She sees opportunities for the program to expand beyond nutrition. “We want patients to be in the best possible shape for their surgeries,” Yaceczko said. “We’re also looking into things like psychosocial services for the patients’ mental wellbeing, as well as physical therapy and exercise to help patients with their conditioning and improve their strength before their surgeries.”

To learn more, visit the UCLA Vatche & Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases.