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Nutrition therapy is often a part of cerebral palsy treatment because many children have digestive difficulties and feeding problems. Some of these issues can start as early as infancy and continue throughout childhood. A specialized diet and nutritional counseling can help parents learn what foods help digestion, supplements their child may need, and how to overcome feeding problems.
What Is Nutritional and Dietary Counseling?
Everyone needs good nutrition, but for children with cerebral palsy, dietary needs are often not met due to associated conditions of the disorder.
For instance, “CP is often caused by poor oral-motor function, which impairs the child’s ability to safely consume calories and nutrients necessary to support growth,” according to a study published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
These are just a few issues that present themselves and can significantly affect the child’s nutrition and dietary needs. Other problems that can impact nutritional needs include sensory issues, frequent infections, and poor appetite due to medication side effects.
A nutritional counselor or therapist evaluates, organizes, and implements specific diet and nutrition plans for each child. Nutritional counselors always consider several things when planning an individualized diet. These include a child’s environment, cultural factors, skinfold measurements, allergies, intolerance, and other existing health issues.
A nutrition therapist or counselor also provides education and awareness to parents and caregivers, which helps them implement the child’s nutritional needs at home and school. Monitoring, evaluations, and assessments are important parts of ensuring each child is successful with their nutritional goals.
Nutrition counselors and dietary therapists can be found in various professional settings. If you need assistance for your child, consider inquiring at:
- Private practices
- Government agencies
- Diet and nutrition-related businesses
- School programs
- Healthcare facilities
- Research programs
Children with cerebral palsy often have a team of medical providers to ensure that all of their needs are met. Medical providers may include a nutritional counselor, pediatrician, dentist, neurologist, physical therapist, and occupational therapist.
The Ketogenic Diet for Children with Cerebral Palsy
A few diet plans have proven to be beneficial to children with cerebral palsy. A nutritionist might customize the details in each diet to fit the child’s specific needs.
The ketogenic diet has been proven beneficial for children with cerebral palsy who experience frequent seizures. It consists of low-carb and high-fat foods. The high-fat foods cause ketosis, a condition where the ketones in the body increase. When this occurs, seizure activity decreases.
However, it’s currently unclear what the long-term benefits of the ketogenic diet will be for children with cerebral palsy.
Before starting your child on the ketogenic diet, it’s extremely important to not only work with the child’s primary health care provider but also with a nutrition therapist or a dietitian. The Epilepsy Foundation reports that some children experience side effects after trying the diet, including:
- Kidney stones
- Bone fractures
- Slowed growth
Types of Nutrients Children With Cerebral Palsy Need, But May Lack
From medications, associated conditions, and lifestyle, several children with cerebral palsy tend to lack the correct amount of nutrients needed to sustain health. Common nutrient deficiencies include:
Around 99% of calcium is contained in the skeletal system. The rest has the critical duty of controlling blood pressure, soft tissue function, and muscle movement. Calcium helps secrete hormones and control blood flow constriction and relaxation.
It is also necessary for muscle contraction. Many children and adults with cerebral palsy are diagnosed with osteopenia, a medical condition marked by fragile bones due to decreased calcium.
Magnesium plays a vital role in producing energy, assisting in cell communication, synthesizing molecules, and helping children build strong bones. Most people are low in magnesium, but research suggests that people with cerebral palsy are often more at risk for having low magnesium levels.
Many children with cerebral palsy suffer from mood swings, depression, and anxiety. They may lack enough vitamin C to synthesize the norepinephrine neurotransmitter in the brain. Adequate amounts of vitamin C also help children battle common illnesses.
Copper is an important trace mineral found in the brain, heart, kidneys, skeletal muscles, and liver. It helps increase iron absorption, maintain collagen, and ward off infections. Children with cerebral palsy are often low in copper and manganese, minerals usually found with iron.
Low copper and manganese levels can cause weak bones, neurological function issues, growth problems, and increase a child’s risk of infection.
National Nutrition Month
Each year, March marks the month for “National Nutrition Month.” The goal of this month is to encourage people to learn more about good nutrition and make the necessary diet changes needed to live a healthier life.
Getting your child to eliminate at least one unhealthy food is a positive way to teach good eating habits for life. For example, in November, eliminate any sugar-filled snacks and replace them with green leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc.
Keep Track of Your Child’s Diet
Consider keeping a food diary to track your child’s daily food and drink intake. It can help a nutrition therapist understand your child’s eating patterns before an assessment. This can then be used to assist the therapist in creating the best diet plan to follow.
If you have any concerns or questions regarding nutrition and diet for children with cerebral palsy, feel free to contact us for assistance.
- Growth and Nutrition Disorders in Children with Cerebral Palsy. (2010, March 2). PubMed Central (PMC). National Institutes of Health.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2830751/
- Long-term impact of the ketogenic diet on growth and resting energy expenditure in children with intractable epilepsy. (2014, April 20). PubMed Central (PMC).
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4133288/
- Bone Density in Cerebral Palsy. (2009, August 20). PubMed Central (PMC). National Institute of Health.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2836770/
- National Nutrition Month | March 2020. (2020, March 3). American Society for Nutrition.
Retrieved from: https://nutrition.org/national-nutrition-month-2020/