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SICKLE CELL AWARENESS
How Proper Nutrition Plays a Role
By Michelle Maxwell, MS, RD
As a dietitian in a predominantly African American county, I have seen my fair share of clients with Sickle-cell anemia (SCA) or clients who carried the trait. Unlike my diabetic or hypertensive clients, there really isn’t a clear diet plan I can suggest, and if you ask the client, more times than not, there isn’t a plan given to them by their physician either.
However, here is what we do know or at least practice. Supplementation with folic acid tends to be standard. Folic acid helps to make, replace and store red blood cells. Folic acid can also be found naturally in foods such as avocado, broccoli and spinach and added to foods (fortified) like orange juice and breads. Penicillin is also usually given as a preventative measure to illness related to decreased immunity. Hydration is also extremely important for those with Sickle Cell Anemia. Those who have SCA want to avoid dehydration because it can cause the blood to thicken and this can cause pain and a Sickle-Cell episode.
SCA tends to be associated with being smaller and slower development. This could be due to a higher metabolism, so increased calories are recommended. This can be done by adding nutrient dense, high calorie foods. Examples of this include things such as avocado, nuts and peanut butter. All of these foods are still full of great nutrition, but are also higher in calories due to the amount of healthy fats.
Supplementation of Calcium and Vitamin D has been recommended, and research is being done to see if Omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce pain in those with Sickle Cell Anemia. Although, SCA is a form of anemia, iron supplementation may not be recommended, especially if blood transfusions are being received.
Hydration is also extremely important for those with Sickle Cell Anemia. Those who have SCA want to avoid dehydration because it can cause the blood to thicken and this can cause pain and a Sickle-Cell episode.
So, what are some recommendations that can be shared? I recommend following your doctor’s orders when it comes to supplementations. Your doctor will have your lab work and will know what supplements will be beneficial for you, and for this condition, there isn’t a one size fits all. I also recommend focusing on more of a plant-based diet. With the tendency to be smaller and with delayed development, those with SCA should focus on giving their body the best fuel and foods that are high in vitamins and minerals.
Focusing on an increase in calorie intake through whole foods and not junk food is also important. Increase calories by adding those foods which have a high density of nutrients and/or adding snacks in between meals. Those with sickle cell anemia should also carry a water bottle at all times. Finally, due to the increased risk of decreased immunity, focusing on food safety is key, as well. People with SCA already tend to have pain, fatigue and weakness that may slow appetite and decrease the amount that they eat. When dealing with Sickle Cell Anemia we want to avoid food borne illness from the foods that may not be the best. Hopefully as awareness increases, and more people in the field of dietetics become informed about the disease, the research will increase and the recommendations will be more clear.
Michelle Maxwell received her B.S. in dietetics and M.S. in Nutrition and Food Science from Florida State University. Originally on a pre-med track, she switched into this field after realizing how big of a role nutrition played in health, especially in preventing disease. Michelle’s heart is in public health because she knows how much of an impact education has on health outcomes, and this is why her current passion lies in improving health outcomes in the African American community, especially among our women and children. Ms. Maxwell’s goal is to teach everyone how to make small changes that can lead to big results.
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