Good nutrition is important for everyone’s good health, but in children with SMA, poor nutrition and an inadequate diet can further weaken muscles essential to breathing and the immune system.

No specific diet is yet supported by clinical studies in SMA patients. Still, a balanced diet is believed to benefit these people by promoting better breathing, a stronger immune system, and improved growth and motor function, all of which contributes to an overall better quality of life,

A balanced diet is not easy for people with SMA, as they can have difficulties in ingesting food by the mouth and swallowing, and can choke on food, according to a questionnaire that included data from 108 participants with SMA type 2 and 3, ages 3-45. (Those with feeding and swallowing difficulties had “significantly higher rates” of low weight and aspiration pneumonia than those without such problems, the study found.) Children with SMA type 1, a more severe disease form, may need a feeding tube, called a nasogastric tube, that go from the nose directly into the stomach, or a gastrostomy tube, which is surgically inserted through the skin directly into the stomach.

Overall, nutrition in people with SMA, whether over- or under-nutrition, can be hampered by difficulties with chewing and swallowing, aspiration (small amounts of food in the windpipe), gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, bloating, constipation, and vomiting), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux disease, yeast overgrowth, and low or high blood sugar.

An individualized diet should be based on the motor function skills of the patient, in consultation with a dietitian or physician with a specialty in SMA. The aim is for a balance in calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates, as well as appropriate vitamin and mineral supplements.

Calories

There are no guidelines available regarding calorie intake for people with SMA. Each person has different energy needs depending on age, and mobility and activity levels. Dietitians estimate the calorie requirement of people with SMA to be 20-50% less than healthy people of the same age.

Fat, protein and carbohydrates

Fatty acids provide energy in people with SMA in different ways than in people without this disease. A dietitian may verify if a diet is correct by checking patients’ weight and growth, and the levels of some proteins, salts and minerals in their blood. Besides recommending the proper amount of nutrient intake, the dietitian may recommend diet alterations, such as eating smaller portions, changing to a low-fat diet for those at risk of GERD, and choosing softer foods for those with difficulties in chewing and swallowing.

SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.