The world of nutrition has become an increasingly hot topic over the past few years. It is emerging as a thriving field of research, clinical practice, and delicious recipes! Nutrition is more than just vitamin supplementation or eating a balanced diet. Within the many medical specialties, nutritional support plays an integral role in the care of patients at different stages of health and their life cycle.
In cardiology, nutrition plays a major role in managing diseases such as hyperlipidemia, hypertension and congestive heart failure. Patients with these diseases are cautioned to watch their cholesterol and sodium intake. Nutritionists become integral to the medical team by joining physicians to teach patients about heart-smart diets, like the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet revolves around meals full of fruits and veggies, a good portion of dairy products and fish, and less emphasis on meat products. Studies have shown that this type of diet is healthy for the heart and beneficial for patients with cardiovascular diseases.
Patients with gastrointestinal diseases require ongoing nutritional counseling, especially when portions of their bowel are surgically removed. For example, a patient with Crohn’s disease who undergoes resection of their ileum can develop short bowel syndrome. The ileum is where fat-soluble vitamins, bile salts and vitamin B12 are all absorbed. As the absorptive properties of the resected ileum are disrupted, patients will require vitamin B12 injections and have higher requirements for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These patients are also advised to maintain a low-fat diet as the affected bile salt absorption leads to fat malabsorption.
Nutrition also plays a significant role in the care of burn patients. Severely burned patients are in a negative nitrogen balance as the increased stress to their body leads to increased protein breakdown and the burn wounds cause leakage of proteins from the circulation into the interstitium. These patients require a diet high in protein and caloric energy to replenish the lost protein and diminished energy stores. As a result, tube feeding or enteral nutrition is often needed to literally pump high protein and energy replacement into these patients.
In obstetrics and gynecology, prenatal and maternal nutrition are vital for the proper development of the baby. On the subject of prenatal care, women of childbearing age are used to hearing two key words from their doctors: folic acid. Research shows that folic acid can reduce the risk of babies developing neural tube defects such as spina bifida in utero. After the delivery of the baby, nutrition and proper nourishment of the child is stressed even more from pediatricians as it is essential for the mental and physical development of children.
Nutrition plays a critical role in the many different specialties of medicine. What I especially like about nutrition is how it applies to people throughout the different stages of their life cycle. Research in nutrition is booming and it will be very exciting to see how it will apply to our experiences practicing medicine in our future. I hope that you find my Nutrition & Wellness column interesting, informative and thought-provoking.
Nutrition & Wellness is a column about how nutrition applies to us as medical students and to the different specialties of the medical field. In this column, we’ll also talk about how medical students can maintain a healthy lifestyle despite our busy schedules.