Wound healing is an impressive process when you stop to think about it. You’re creating new tissue from scratch. You’re laying down skin, repairing damaged blood vessels, recruiting dozens of immune system mediators to show up to the job site and remake the wounded area. And in most instances, you do a great job of it. The bleeding stops, the wound heals, no scar forms, and the damaged tissue looks and performs as good as new. Remarkable.
But you don’t have to leave it to chance. It turns out that there are many natural ways to heal a wound fast.
Note: these are recommendations for minor wounds you can treat at home. If your wound exhibits any of the following characteristics, consider medical attention:
Jagged or irregular cuts that may not heal without stitches
Gaping openings that won’t stop bleeding
Signs of infection (foul odor, pain that doesn’t let up, wounds that don’t seem to be healing)
The good news is that most wounds aren’t that serious and can be treated well at home. Here’s what to do:
1. Do the basics
The basics are basics for a reason: they work.
Clean the wound, using irrigation (spraying it with water) and an antiseptic solution like iodine.
Cover the wound with a clean bandage. Contrary to what many people believe, a wound shouldn’t “dry out.” That just makes it more painful and slows the healing process. A wound should be covered and kept moist.
Change the bandage when you need to.
Wait for it to heal.
Those are the basics, but there’s a lot more you can do to speed up the process.
2. Eat more protein
How the body responds to a severe burn is an extreme display of how the body responds to wounds in general. It goes into metabolic overdrive, and one of the most important nutrients supporting the metabolic rate during wound or burn healing is protein.1You need at least 1.5 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight, and I’d go further and say you should get 1 gram per pound of bodyweight.
Load up on animal protein: meat, eggs, dairy, seafood. Adding 10-20 grams of whey isolate at every meal to top off your normal protein intake is a nice way to hit the numbers, especially since whey is a powerful, efficient source of protein.
3. Eat more collagen
Just “protein” isn’t enough. It’s important, but a particular type of protein is also crucial: collagen. It makes sense on an intuitive level why you’d need more collagen when healing, since our skin is made of collagen. And just like taking collagen before a weight training session can increase the amount of collagen deposited into the affected connective tissue, eating extra collagen when healing from a wound can increase collagen deposition and formation in the wounded region. Simply put, wounds increase collagen demands. Aim for 20 grams of collagen each day when healing.
4. Apply magnesium oil
Magnesium oil isn’t really oil. It’s magnesium chloride dissolved in water that takes on a slippery, oily feel. When applied to the skin, you absorb the magnesium—enough to boost levels by over 60%. Magnesium oil has been shown to speed up healing from diaper rash when added to calendula cream, and I’ve personally used it to speed up the healing of cuts and scrapes.2
You can make or purchase magnesium chloride oil. To make it, buy magnesium chloride flakes, fill a spray bottle about 3/4 of the way with the flakes, and cover with warm distilled, spring, or reverse osmosis water. Shake to dissolve, then apply it to your skin. It may sting a bit, especially on the wound, but it should assist in healing.
5. Swim in the cold ocean
Now, the warmer and more brackish the water, the more likely it is that flesh-degrading bacteria inhabit it. The bacteria in question, vibrio vulnificus, thrives in brackish (1-2% salinity) water warmer than 64°F. So use caution. Anything above 70 degree water I’d avoid with open wounds. But if your ocean is actually cold, like the Pacific on the California coast, and you’re actually in sea water (3-5% salinity) rather than brackish (1-2%) water, you’re probably safe and in my experience you’ll speed up wound healing. I remember doing this as a kid in Maine—just washing my scrapes with cold ocean water. Some of it is probably the magnesium content, as I described in the previous section. But a lot of it can’t be explained by magnesium. There’s something “else” about going into the ocean with scrapes.
As for the “sharks can smell blood from miles away” thing, that’s nothing to worry about. Sharks do have sensitive olfactory bulbs that can detect small concentrations of substances in the water, like blood. But they still obey the laws of physics. The diluted blood still needs to physically reach them, and they have to determine where it’s coming from and whether it’s worth the trouble.
6. Apply red and infrared light
Both infrared and red light (aka “low level laser therapy” or “phototherapy”) show promise in treating and accelerating the healing process for wounds by increasing blood flow, reducing inflammation, and improving collagen metabolism, but there isn’t any established clinical methodology for treating actual wounds with light devices.3 One thing you could try is getting both sunrise and sunset exposure because those are the times of the day most enriched with infrared and red light.
What I’ve done in the past with other types of injuries and general joint pain is use infrared saunas. I like this method a little better because rather than holding a concentrated infrared or red light device directly over the wound and trying to guess how long to apply it, you enjoy the sauna and let indirect rays do the work.
Red light/IR light devices are fairly safe things to try, but I don’t have any specific recommendations for their use for wounds. I am confident, however, that they will probably help. I have and like the Joovv.
7. Apply honey
Honey works well on wounds, acting as a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent and as a general promoter of tissue healing thanks to its antioxidant compounds, acidity, natural hydrogen peroxide production, and osmotic effect. They haven’t figured out all the reasons why it works, but honey just seems to accelerate wound healing.
Manuka honey gets the lion’s share of the accolades for ist wound healing properties, but there’s pretty good evidence that there are even better honeys. Buckwheat honey, for example, was just identified in a recent study for having the highest levels of compounds with the most wound-healing potential.4
If you’re not sure whether your honey will help you heal, one thing I’ve noticed about honey is that the darker the honey, the better. The darker, the more active, and potentially the more effective at healing wounds. So whether it’s Manuka honey, buckwheat honey, or the dark wildflower honey from your local farmer, pretty much any honey will assist in wound healing. Heck, there’s even evidence that basic sugar, white table sugar can increase wound healing when applied topically. After irrigating and cleaning the wound, apply honey.
8. Apply black seed oil
I wrote about black seed oil awhile back for oral use as a supplementary food, but it turns out that topical black seed oil is also an effective wound healing accelerator—especially combined with honey.5
Apply a few drops to the wound or scrape. To blend with honey, mix the two together and then apply.
9. Try fasting (for chronic wounds)
To my knowledge, this specific intervention—fasting for chronic wound healing—hasn’t been tested. But Nrf2 is a pathway activated by fasting that has been shown to improve wound healing in diabetics suffering from long term chronic “slow to heal” wounds and ulcers.6 Start with a 24 hour fast and go from there.
10. Take vitamin C
As you may know, most mammals produce their own vitamin C. Humans are one of the few mammals who don’t and have to get it from the diet or via supplementation.
To look at the effect of removing vitamin C from the wound-healing process, scientists genetically altered a group of lab mice so that they no longer produced vitamin C. Whereas a normal mouse produces all the vitamin C it needs, these genetically altered mice did not. So they took the vitamin C-null mice and wounded them. One group of wounded mice got vitamin C in their diets. One group did not. The vitamin C-null mice who got vitamin C in their water healed just as well as the normal mice with vitamin C production intact. The vitamin C-null mice who got no added vitamin C had poor healing.7
These weren’t humans, but humans are very similar to the vitamin C-null mice. Since most animals produce extra vitamin C after being wounded, humans should also eat a little extra vitamin C when they’re recovering from a wound.
11. Get enough zinc
Zinc is another necessary co-factor in the wound healing process. A study found that diabetics with ulcers had faster healing and smaller wounds after taking 50 mg of zinc sulfate versus a placebo for 12 weeks.8 Now, diabetics tend to be deficient in zinc, so this may not apply to everyone with a scratch or scrape. Most people following a Primal eating plan get plenty of zinc through red meat and shellfish—but it’s a good idea to make sure you’re eating enough.
I wouldn’t bother with extra zinc if you just have a small scrape, but if it’s more serious, like a bad burn, then there’s no harm in taking some extra zinc.
You don’t have to try all of these together, but some of them work better in concert. I’d do magnesium oil right off the bat after cleaning and dressing it. Maybe rinse it off in the ocean if it was cold enough. I’d take vitamin C and zinc with meals. I’d take collagen before any red light/IR treatment. I’d add honey and black seed oil every time you change the dressing. If the wound was an old one, I’d fast for a day.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.