The Importance of Nutrition for Cerebral Palsy
Individuals with Cerebral Palsy often have trouble absorbing nutrients. Take these steps to ensure proper nutrition when dealing with Cerebral Palsy.
Cerebral palsy is a type of neurological disorder that causes problems with the muscles, bones, and nervous system. Cerebral palsy is usually caused by a brain injury sometime before birth, but can also be caused by physical trauma or severe illness early in life.
About 764,000 Americans have cerebral palsy, according to estimations from the United Cerebral Palsy Association. Cerebral palsy also is often accompanied by other complications, such as seizures, mental retardation, learning disabilities, vision problems, speech problems, or hearing problems. Between 35 and 50 percent of children with cerebral palsy have other issues.
Individuals with cerebral palsy often suffer from many side effects, which can result in other health problems down the road. One of the best ways to prevent these issues from occurring is to ensure that a person with cerebral palsy has a nutrient-rich diet.
Read more about how vitamins and minerals can help someone with cerebral palsy below:
Many children and adults with cerebral palsy have issues with undernourishment because they may have feeding difficulties or oral motor dysfunction. This makes eating difficult and makes it harder to provide nutritional meals. Other individuals with cerebral palsy may have gastrointestinal issues that make absorbing nutrients harder.
A study from 1999 found that about 92 percent of all children with cerebral palsy suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms like regurgitation, chronic constipation, abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing, and other symptoms. These issues quickly cause nutritional deficiencies.
Most cerebral palsy treatment plans include treatments for improving oral motor skills. This helps prevent some of the issues associated with the condition, but still may not prevent all gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation. When a person with cerebral palsy suffers from nutritional deficiencies, it can cause other health issues that severely limit activity level and quality of life.
Children and adults with cerebral palsy often suffer from nutrition deficiencies that can cause other health problems such as a lowered immune system, lack of energy, and excessive weight loss. Certain supplements can provide nutrient boosts that not only boost general health, but that also can help with some of the neurological effects of cerebral palsy.
Many children and adults with cerebral palsy are lacking in the following nutrients:
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is crucial for maintaining the health of the bones, muscles, immune system, and neurological system. CP is often damaging to the muscles and bones. Adding a vitamin C supplement can help protect the health of these vital systems. Vitamin C also works to synthesis neurotransmitters, which can effect mood and other brain messages. Vitamin C is an important nutrient for maximum absorption of bone-building nutrients like calcium and magnesium. A study from 2006 conducted by the National Institute of Health found that many individuals with CP suffer from depression. Vitamin C supplements can help reverse depression symptoms.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential for bone health. A lack of vitamin D leads to weaker bones and muscles. Vitamin D also works with other nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamin C to build strong, healthy bones from the inside out. A study from 2007 published in Neuropediatrics found that individuals with CP usually have low levels of vitamin D.
Calcium: Calcium, just like vitamin D and vitamin C, is essential for bone health. Calcium is also important for muscle health. A lack of calcium can cause muscle cramps and tight muscles. Individuals with CP need to ensure they get enough calcium, as weakness of the bones and muscles is often a side effect of the condition.
Vitamin B6: B6 is a vitamin that many Americans lack, but it is incredibly important for the regulation and health of the blod, immune system, hormonal systems, and nervous system. Vitamin B6 also regulates energy levels, meaning that a person low in B6 will feel tired and sluggish often.
Thiamin: Thiamin is a coenzyme necessary for many of the body’s enzymes to work properly. One of the main uses of thiamin is the conversion of carbohydrates to energy. Thiamin is also essential for the health of the neurological system, which is of particular importance for individuals with CP.
Magnesium: Magnesium works along with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin C in the health of bones. However, magnesium is used throughout the body in the nervous system and over 300 other biological processes. A lack of magnesium can lead to heart spasms, confusion, nausea, muscle spasms, fatigue, weakness, and more. A person with CP needs to ensure that their magnesium intake is high.
Boron: Boron is a trace element that is essential for the proper absorption of calcium and magnesium. Studies on Boron have shown that it may help prevent arthritis, which is a common problem in individuals with cerebral palsy. Too-low levels of boron have been linked to side effects such as impaired coordination, poor dexterity, and decreased activity in the brain.
GABA: GABA is a neurotransmitter that can affect mood. Studies have shown that GABA can help relax the body, improve quality of sleep, and reduce stress. A person with cerebral palsy may have trouble sleeping because of pain or stiffness, and GABA can help provide a better night’s sleep.
Zinc: Zinc is a mineral essential for immune system health and has positive effects on other systems in the body. In a study on children with cerebral palsy from 1991, it was found that when children were given zinc supplements, they had improved muscle control, metabolic processes, and overall health.
Individuals with cerebral palsy may also need extra fat and protein supplements if the diet is poor or if there are complications while eating. Healthy fats, including coconut oil, butter, olive oil, nut oils, and avocado oil can help increase the fat content in the diet.
Avoid filler fats, such as trans fats and hydrogenated fats. Fats from fried foods and junk foods should also be avoided. At all times, foods should be chosen based on their nutritional quality rather than simply their calorie content even if the person with cerebral palsy is underweight. Larger quantities of healthy foods are always preferable to smaller quantities of unhealthy foods.
Look for sources of protein from protein powders, dairy, eggs, beans, and humanely-raised animals. Gelatin and other colorless and tasteless protein powders can be added to other foods to boost their nutritional value.
Cerebral Palsy.org recommends several alternative treatments for individuals with CP. These options include:
In addition to the supplements listed above, Cerebral Palsy.org suggests that supplements like fish oil, amino acids, botanicals, minerals, and probiotics are often used to boost the health of patients with CP. Energy Therapies Cerebral Palsy.org states that energy therapies manipulate the electromagnetic fields around a person through light, magnets, touch, or Reiki.
In body-based therapy, bones, joints, and other parts of the body are manipulated by hand to improve the symptoms of CP. Common therapies include massage and spinal manipulation.
This therapy method uses mental therapy to boost the body’s feeling of wellness. Common therapies for CP include yoga, guided imagery, relaxation, and meditation. Mind-body therapy may also help improve muscle control at the same time.
Movement therapy is helpful for cerebral palsy patients who have trouble with fine motor skills. Movement therapy varies from exercise like Pilates to dance. Controlled movement can go a long way toward alleviating some of the muscle-related symptoms of cerebral palsy.
Some individuals with cerebral palsy may benefit from ancient medicinal remedies, such as Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine, homeopathy, or naturopathy. If you choose to explore this treatment method, find a practitioner trained in the field of medicine that you plan to try. Many ancient medical practices require years of intensive study for maximum effectiveness.
Since individuals with CP often have conditions that make digesting nutrients more difficult, supplementing with vitamins and minerals (and in some cases fats and protein) will go a long way toward protecting the health of a person with CP. The right nutrient balance will not only reduce the risk of developing other dangerous or deadly health conditions, but it will also improve some of the symptoms associated with cerebral palsy, such as muscle pains, arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, and muscle spasms. One of the best things a person with cerebral palsy can do is ensure that they eat a diet full of healthy, nutritious foods and supplement for any nutrients lacking in their diet.
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Disorders and Stroke (U.S.). NIH Publication No. 06-159 (July 2006).
Kilpinen-Loisa P, Nenonen H, Pihko H, Mäkitie O. High-dose vitamin D supplementation in children with cerebral palsy or neuromuscular disorder. Neuropediatrics. 2007 Aug;38(4):167-72.
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