Tuck in!

Do people with a spinal-cord injury need to pay special attention to what they eat? DEBORAH LOUW looks at the menu…

The paralysis that ensues after a spinal-cord injury (SCI) affects the way your body works – in several ways. Because you are less active, your muscles and bones may become weaker; the circulatory and respiratory systems that pump blood and oxygen to your heart, lungs and throughout your body may not work as effectively as before; and bowel and bladder functions may be adversely affected. And because you’re less physically active, you’re likely to burn off fewer kilojoules – which could lead to weight gain.

Other medical concerns include:

  • Increased risk for diabetes, elevated cholesterol and obesity.
  • Risk for developing pressure sores.
  • Increased risk for osteoporosis.

The United Spinal Assocation, based in the US, recommends you consume:

  • Adequate fibre and fluids to prevent constipation;
  • Adequate protein to prevent pressure ulcers and preserve lean body mass (muscles);
  • Low-fat foods and drinks (avoid the sugary ones!) to prevent weight gain; and
  • Reduced overall kilojoule intake. (It’s worth remembering that different types of SCI will result in different kilojoule needs: a person with a cervical SCI will have more difficulty moving compared with someone with SCI in the lower spine. Similarly, a person with an SCI who is still able to walk will probably consume more kilojoules than someone who uses a wheelchair all the time.)

In an authoritative report from Washington University in the US,* the conclusions that the authors reached were that individuals with SCI:

  • Have the same protein needs as the general population, unless there is a pressure sore present, in which event a substantial increase in protein is required to help the wound to heal.
  • Should keep cholesterol and other blood fats and waist circumference within normal parameters.
  • Because they are at higher risk for osteoporosis (loss of bone density) and therefore for fractures, they should maintain an adequate calcium intake; reduce or cut out smoking; and limit caffeine intake.
  • Eat regular meals throughout the day.
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
  • No additional supplements should be necessary, unless your doctor has identified some sort of deficiency via a blood test and has prescribed a supplement.

And, of course, keeping as active as you possibly can is important. Find an activity that you enjoy or that suits you best – whether it’s swimming, doing electrical stimulation exercises or simply heading to a park or shopping mall and wheeling up and down.

So, with this in mind, you can continue looking forward to your meals. Happy eating!

* Report: Everyday Nutrition for Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury by Vickeri Barton and Susie Kim of the Harborview Medical Center, US.

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