October is Spina Bifida Awareness Month and October 25 has been designated World Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Day by the International Federation for Spina Bifida and this is space is dedicated to nutrition, we will do just that.
Nutrition plays a critical role in the management and prevention of spina bifida and hydrocephalus, two congenital conditions that require specialized care.
Spina bifida and hydrocephalus are neural tube defects resulting from incomplete closure of the fetal neural tube during early pregnancy (the baby’s brain and spine do not form properly during pregnancy). While genetics play a role, proper nutrition, particularly during the prenatal period, is essential in reducing the risk of these conditions. What a mother eats during this period has a very big bearing on a child’s risk for these conditions. Adequate intake of folic acid, a B-vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, and supplements, is crucial. Folic acid supplementation before and during pregnancy can significantly lower the risk of neural tube defects, (all this is explained later).
Parents of children born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus face unique nutritional challenges. These conditions often require specialized diets and feeding methods due to difficulties with digestion, absorption, and oral motor control. Nutrient deficiencies, particularly in vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, calcium, and iron, can occur. Ensuring proper nutrition can be a daily struggle, and parents may seek guidance and support.
Proper nutrition can help reduce the risk of these conditions during pregnancy and improve the quality of life for individuals living with them.
Here’s why nutrition is important and which nutrients are essential:
Prevention is better than cure they say. There are some key nutrients and dietary considerations for mothers to prevent the occurrence of spina bifida and hydrocephalus in their children, however if the child already has the condition, some of these too can apply.
- Folic Acid:
Folic acid is a critical nutrient in the prevention of neural tube defects. Don’t wait until you conceive. Women planning to conceive should aim for at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Foods rich in folic acid include spinach, broccoli, fortified cereals, and legumes. This applies for those who are already pregnant too. Should you opt to use supplements, be sure to seek the guidance of a medical personnel.
- Calcium and Vitamin D:
Calcium and vitamin D are vital for bone health. Children with spina bifida usually have reduced mobility, putting them at risk of bone-related issues. Ensuring an adequate intake of calcium-rich foods like dairy products, fortified plant-based milks, and green leafy vegetables will be helpful. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and can be obtained from sunlight exposure and supplements if necessary.
- Vitamin B12:
Vitamin B12 works in conjunction with folate to ensure proper neural tube closure. A deficiency in either nutrient can increase the risk of neural tube defects. This can found in animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are primary sources of vitamin B12.
Iron is crucial for preventing anemia. Ensure that children and individuals with spina bifida and hydrocephalus consume iron-rich foods like lean meats, poultry, fish, fortified cereals, beans, and leafy greens. Pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods increases iron absorption, therefore give them fruits alongside their meals.
Fiber helps with digestive health and can prevent constipation, a common issue for among persons with spina bifida. Encourage whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes in the diet. Hydration is equally important for support of proper digestion.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain and nervous system development in the fetus. These also have a positive impact on brain health in individuals with hydrocephalus. You will find this majorly in fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tilapia “mpuuta”), flaxseeds, chia seeds.
- Antioxidants (Vitamins C and E):
Antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in individuals with hydrocephalus, potentially minimizing brain damage. Sources of antioxidants are citrus fruits, berries, nuts, seeds, spinach, and vegetable oils.
Adequate protein intake is essential for overall growth and development, including brain development in infants and children with hydrocephalus. Sources of protein include lean meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, legumes, and tofu.
Proper hydration is critical, especially for those with hydrocephalus. Dehydration can exacerbate symptoms. Ensure a steady intake of fluids throughout the day.
Nutrition plays a pivotal role in the management and prevention of spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Ensuring expectant mothers receive adequate folic acid and providing tailored nutritional support to children born with these conditions can lead to improved outcomes in their unborn babies. A well-balanced diet rich in essential nutrients will ensure healthy fetal development and to support the overall well-being of individuals living with these conditions.
Empowering parents with knowledge about proper nutrition and connecting them with healthcare professionals and dietitians is essential for the well-being of individuals affected by these conditions.
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