When I was younger, I was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory disease that impacts the coronary arteries. As I’ve grown up, I’ve become increasingly interested in how that might affect my heart and my health in the future. I’m sure many of us have spent time on the internet, looking up and researching our various diagnoses. So it makes sense that, when her husband received a diagnosis of gastroparesis, one woman reached out to the doctors for help. After looking for a treatment, the doctor had one word: diet.
Gastroparesis is a (you guessed it!) gastrointestinal disorder that makes it difficult to move food between the stomach and small intestine. Let’s break down its name really quickly. “Gastro” is a prefix which signals that something relates to the stomach. “Paresis” refers to muscle weakness (often caused by nerve damage). Paresis differs from paralysis because paresis means that there is still some control over movement.
So, gastroparesis is muscle weakness in and around the stomach. Potential causes include vagus nerve damage, surgical complications, viruses, opioid abuse, hypothyroidism, and autoimmune disorders.
Normally, food moves from the stomach when muscles surrounding the gastrointestinal tract contract and relax. It takes approximately 4 hours to break down and transfer the food. But with gastroparesis, muscle function is too weak. As a result, food either slowly moves into the small intestine or never moves at all.
Because the stomach can’t empty itself, digestion is disrupted or delayed. This can lead to bacteria growth, malnutrition, loss of appetite, elevated blood glucose levels, and blockages. The condition is most likely underdiagnosed. Symptoms include:
- Acid reflux
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling full quickly and without consuming much
- Abdominal pain
Read more about gastroparesis here.
A Doctor’s Advice
In an “Ask the Doctors” letter, a concerned wife wrote in about her husband’s symptoms. They began with nausea and progressed to intense stomach pain. At first, says the wife, she worried that he might have cancer. However, his doctor returned with a diagnosis of gastroparesis. Moving forward, she asks:
“Is [gastroparesis] dangerous? What’s the best treatment?”
The doctor starts by acknowledging some of the potential complications of gastroparesis. For example, it can cause nerve damage in patients with diabetes. However, the doctor reassures the woman that gastroparesis is not dangerous if managed correctly. Although there is no cure for gastroparesis, it can typically be managed with medications or lifestyle changes. In severe cases, doctors may recommend a feeding tube.
But in this case, the doctor recommends treating gastroparesis with nutrition and a good diet. For a gastrolparesis-friendly diet, people should:
- Eat smaller portions of soft, properly-cooked food.
- Avoid high-fat and greasy food, carbonated beverages, and alcohol.
- Sit up while eating and avoiding laying down for at least 1 hour following each meal.
- Reduce or eliminate fiber intake, as it can be difficult to digest.
- Fruits and vegetables are key sources of fiber. As a result, fruits and vegetables should not be eaten raw. They should be cooked or pureed with an additional liquid source (like juice). This means having applesauce instead of an apple, or a smoothie instead of a bowl of fruit salad.
- Increase the amount of water consumed.
- Supplement their diet with Ensure (or other nutritional drinks), clear soups, sports drinks, or broths.
- Walk after meals to encourage and aid in digestion.
- Speak to their doctor to ensure their safety.
- Consider talking to a registered dietitian.
Interested in other gastrolparesis-friendly nutrition advice? Looking for a sample menu or recipes? Check out this great guide from the Cleveland Clinic.