Cystic Fibrosis: Nutrition and Diet

A good diet can help to prevent lung function deterioration and reduce the risk of infections. Find out here how to plan a suitable menu to help you treat cystic fibrosis.
Cystic Fibrosis: Nutrition and Diet

Last update: 10 August, 2021

The right diet and nutrition are important aspects of managing and treating cystic fibrosis. Why? We’ll tell you more in this article.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease that’s chronic and degenerative. It principally affects the lungs and the digestive system. What causes CF? A gene mutation (defective gene) changes a protein in the body that affects mucus secretion and how cells transport chloride and sodium.

The pancreas is affected in some cystic fibrosis cases, even to the point of pancreatic insufficiency. This means that the pancreas is unable to secrete the enzymes the body uses to digest lipids (fats).

Therefore, diet and nutrition play a crucial role both in how the disease develops over time and in the patient’s quality of life. A good diet helps to prevent lung function deterioration and reduces the risk of infections.

Why are some cystic fibrosis sufferers malnourished?

Malnutrition is a factor that influences morbidity and mortality, as well as detrimentally affecting the patient’s quality of life. Why can CF cause malnutrition? It’s because of an imbalance between the body’s energy requirements and calorie consumption. This imbalance is determined by these three factors: greater energy requirements, lower calorie intake, and greater energy losses.

  • Energy expenditure and metabolism. Your basal energy expenditure (BEE) increases. Lung disease, together with infections and decreases in lung function causes the BEE to increase.
  • Decreased calorie intake. Generally, patients with CF are prone to complications that limit their ability to consume food through the mouth, with consequent digestive disorders due to a lower calorie intake.
  • Loss of energy. This is due to the loss of nutrients through the person’s stools since they can’t digest and absorb the nutrients properly, causing an energy imbalance.
A range of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, and nuts.

Recommendations on diet and nutrition for cystic fibrosis

What’s the first step to take before making any changes in your diet? You’ll need to see a professional to carry out a thorough assessment of your current dietary habits and to check your current body measurements. Your body mass index (BMI) should be around 22kg/m² for women and around 23 kg/m² for men.

A person with cystic fibrosis can have a similar diet to that of a healthy person. But they should also take other factors into account, such as their need for a greater energy intake.

Recommendations:

  • Increase in energy intake. Your diet should provide between 120 to 150 percent of the energy needs for your age and weight. If you find you’re still losing weight, start to consume over 150 percent of your body’s energy needs.
  • Protein intake. Your diet should also be giving you between 120 to 150 percent of the recommended protein intake for your age and weight.
  • Carbohydrates. These should make up around 40 to 45 percent of your total calorie intake. It’s also a good idea to consume mostly complex carbohydrates, avoiding simple sugars to help you maintain control over your blood sugar levels. If you suffer from severe respiratory problems, reduce your intake to 30 percent. Remember that a high blood sugar level can cause a greater inflammatory response in the body, according to recent research. This can complicate your management of the disease.
  • Lipids intake. This should be around 40 to 45 percent of your total intake. Make sure you don’t consume more than ten percent of saturated fatty acids. It’s also necessary to reduce your intake of trans fats. According to a study published in the journal Progress in Lipid Research, these fats can increase the body’s inflammatory response and the risk of various diseases.
  • Minerals. Your diet should provide you with an adequate supply of minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron, and sodium.
  • Fat-soluble vitamins. You should supplement your diet with vitamins A, D, and E, and depending on your personal needs, with vitamin K as well.
Vitamins are an important part of diet and nutrition in cystic fibrosis.

How can you follow these recommendations?

One recommendation is to divide your daily calorie intake into three main meals and two or three secondary meals. Of course, as we’ve seen above, it’s vitally important to increase your energy intake. You should include healthy foods in your diet, such as:

  • Healthy oils, such as extra virgin olive oil
  • Nuts
  • Oily fish
  • Whole dairy products such as cream, butter, and cheese
  • Foods including sugar, such as sweets or homemade desserts, ice cream

You may be interested in: Fats Are Essential in the Diet

Supplements

On occasion, you may find your diet isn’t sufficient to provide for your needs. If that’s true in your case, supplements can be a useful option. Fortified milk, carbohydrate or protein supplements, or even artificial feeding such as enteral or parenteral feeding may be necessary in extreme cases.

As we mentioned above, in some cases of CF, the pancreas is so affected that it can’t produce the enzymes necessary to digest or absorb fat. Then, if the enzymes aren’t supplied from outside the body, the fat will be eliminated with the feces. This condition is described in further detail in the journal Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

A proper diet for treating cystic fibrosis

Diet and nutrition are among some of the most important aspects of cystic fibrosis treatment. An adequate diet can make managing the disease easier, as well as reducing complications. Always consume anti-inflammatory foods, and try to avoid those that provoke an inflammatory response in the body.

If you have questions about your nutrition and dietary requirements, you should consult a nutrition professional. They’ll be able to help you plan menus that are suitable for your needs. By paying attention to diet and nutrition, you’ll be able to live more easily with cystic fibrosis.

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  • Valenzuela CA., Baker EJ., Miles EA., Calder PC., Eighteen carbon trans fatty acids and inflammation in the context of atherosclerosis. Prog Lipid Res, 2019.
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