Medical nutrition for optimal health and recovery

by VitaGene Support

Medical nutrition is essential to manage chronic health conditions, especially if weight loss is experienced or weight maintenance is required. This therapeutic approach to manage health conditions can assist in reducing symptoms of certain conditions and prevent further health complications by following a therapeutic meal plan with supplements. 

It is always advisable to speak with your healthcare practitioner before using a medical nutrition product. While certain products can be bought without a prescription/over the counter it is important to note that not all products are the same and may be indicated for specific conditions and not for general use. Products also need to be used in context of any existing medical conditions which is why it is always best to seek advice first.

Ideally the best professionals to seek advice from regarding any nutrition related information and specifically medical nutrition products are registered dietitians as this their specific scope of practice and they are professionally trained in the field of nutrition science and medical nutrition. A registered dietitian will be able to recommend the best suited medical nutrition product after a comprehensive nutrition assessment taking into consideration your needs, preferences, lifestyle, medical diagnosis and nutrition requirements.

Medical nutrition involves the use of oral nutritional supplements, enteral tube feeding (tube feeding via the nose or the gastrointestinal tract) and parenteral nutrition (intravenous feeding) when a patient is unable to meet their requirements via normal food due to a limited, impaired or disturbed capacity to take, digest, absorb, metabolise or excrete ordinary food or nutrients.

Individuals that have increased nutritional requirements include:

  • Critically ill patients in ICU
  • Burns
  • Cancer
  • Surgical – any patients undergoing surgery requiring wound healing
  • Trauma
  • Patients on dialysis
  • Children or teenagers with high activity level (sport)
  • Patients who suffer from eating disorders

The importance of taking nutritional supplements before and after surgery 

Preoperative malnutrition (exacerbated by an underlying condition such as cancer) is common in surgical patients and is often undiagnosed. This means a large number of patients go into theatre malnourished which is associated with higher risk of disease complications and mortality rates, longer length of hospital stay and higher readmission rates. Nutritional supplementation (with immunonutrition- arginine, omega 3 fatty acids and nucleotides) is recommended preoperatively as it is associated with improved outcomes in surgical patients by reducing the rate of postoperative infections, complications and reducing the length of hospital stay. 

Nutrition support for oncology patients

Nutrition support is vital as 90% of cancer patients become malnourished or are at risk of malnutrition, due to the disease progression or due to the toxicity of the treatment (chemotherapy or radiotherapy). At this point most cancer patients are unable to meet their nutrition requirements through normal food intake. 

The effects from chemotherapy or radiotherapy may cause problems with eating and digestion (maldigestion or malabsorption). When more than one chemotherapy drug is given, each drug may cause different side effects which can be minor or more severe.

Other side effects include:

  • Anorexia and cachexia (loss of skeletal muscle and fat) are common causes of malnutrition in cancer patients
  • Mucositis (sore and inflamed mouth or gut)
  • Vomiting
  • Mouth sores
  • Taste changes
  • Sore throat and trouble swallowing
  • Diarrhea (acute or chronic)

Nutrition is vital to keep the body healthy and reduces malnutrition and enhances lean muscle mass. The medical nutrition supplements (oral sip feeds, enteral product or total parenteral IV feeds) can be vital in supporting the body needs as they offer different amounts of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fat and water) the body needs. Eating the right amount of protein and calories is important for healing, fighting infection and having enough energy. And thus, support in the form of nutrition is vital for the cancer patient’s journey to recovery. 

Protein and omega 3 for supporting patient recovery 

Protein has the main function to build and repair. This macronutrient delivers the amino acids required by the body’s tissues to support wound healing, immune function and muscle preservation. After surgery protein is important to repair damaged tissues as well as developing antibodies to remove any infection. It is further needed to form collagen which is required for scar formation. Protein in recovery is essential to reduce muscle catabolism.

Omega 3 fats are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids which are known to reduce inflammation and in doing so may play a beneficial role in various medical conditions.

NUTREN® Fibre is a nutritionally balanced diet for oral consumption or tube feeding, designed for optimal gastrointestinal function.  NUTREN® Fibre can be used as a sole source of nutrition or as a supplement. It contains a blend of soluble, insoluble and prebiotic fibre and a protein source of 50% whey protein and 50% casein.  

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