Children’s Sickle Cell Anemia – When Low-Calorie Diets Can Be Deadly
Sickle-cell anemia is a hereditary condition causing red blood cells to be misinformed. Healthy red blood cells have a contour roughly resembling a doughnut. They are flexible and can pass through narrow passageways in the bloodstream. Sickle cells develop an elongated, bent shape like a sickle.
These blood cells are fragile and are easily broken. They fail to deliver adequate amounts of oxygen, and the kidneys are severely strained by the need to clear proteins from broken blood cells out of the bloodstream. Sickle-cell anemia begins before birth and causes numerous health complications throughout life.
Persons of African descent are most likely to have sickle-cell anemia, but it is also relatively common among people of Mediterranean, Arab, and South Asian ancestry, and it is not unknown among Caucasians. Inheriting a gene for sickle-cell anemia from both parents results in full expression of the disease. Inheriting a gene for sickle-cell anemia from only one parent causes changes in hemoglobin that are identifiable by blood tests, but does not cause symptoms.
increase the child’s need for energy by about 50 calories a day, but many children with sickle-cell anemia suffer developmental setbacks because they are not fed enough when they are sick.Medically prescribed hydroxyurea treatment can reduce, but not eliminate, a child’s need for extra calories and encourage growth.
Zinc deficiency is another common cause of delayed development in children with sickle-cell anemia. Without zinc, the immune system cannot activate natural killer cells and macrophages to fight infection, and other immune cells tend to mature and die early.
Reduced resistance to infection diverts nutrients needed for growth. Children who receive supplemental zinc grow taller and have stronger knees and arms. The difference between receiving adequate zinc and zinc deficiency amounts to only a fraction of an inch of growth per year, but the benefits of zinc supplementation throughout childhood and adolescence can be substantial.
Since zinc is critical to the child’s development but it has an unpleasant taste, it is usually best to give this supplement in the form of a fruit-flavored syrup. Cherry-flavored zinc syrups are available from sickle-cell treatment specialists and compounding pharmacies. Be sure the child receives at least 10 milligrams of zinc per day, but do not overdose.
Very little research has been done concerning the nutritional needs of adults with sickle-cell anemia, although a study in the late 1980s found that most people with the disease suffer various antioxidant deficiencies. Moderate amounts of antioxidant supplementation may reduce the severity of some symptoms of sickle-cell anemia.
Some additional tips for dealing with this condition:
Maintaining body fluids is a special problem for people with this condition. Be sure to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day in hot weather, and to avoid heat as much as possible.
People with sickle-cell are more likely to get cavities and gum disease. Regular dental care improves quality of life.
Teenagers with sickle-cell anemia usually need more calories than other teens even when they get less exercise.Although vigorous physical exercise by itself does not aggravate anemia, confounding factors such as heat stress, dehydration, viral illness, and poor physical conditioning can cause serious complications.