Approximately 20,800 Australians have spinal cord injuries, and 1/3 of these are severe. Top causes include transport accidents, falls, ocean-based accidents, and sports injuries. 80% are young males. Despite being relatively uncommon, the impact of a spinal injury is devastating.
Spinal Cord Injuries Australia Giving Day is held on the 5th of September. It aims to raise money to help improve the lives of spinal cord injury patients, so every donation made on this day will be doubled.
Research is raising awareness of the significance of gut health in spinal injury patients, primarily related to the intricate connection between the gut and the overall immune, neurological, and metabolic systems of the body.
What Happens to the Gut after a Spinal Cord Injury?
Individuals with traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) suffer from numerous other complications in addition to the long-term paralysis that results from disrupted neural signalling pathways.
Those living with SCI have consistently reported gastrointestinal dysfunction as a significant issue for overall quality of life, but most research until the last few years, has focused on bowel management rather than how altered or impaired gut function impacts on the overall health and well-being of the affected individual.
An imbalanced gut microbiome – known as gut dysbiosis – is a common side effect of spinal cord injuries. The symptoms of gut dysbiosis are fatigue, bowel issues, infection, bloating and digestive issues.
The gut-brain axis has been quite extensively investigated in other neurological conditions, but the gut microbiota have only recently gained attention in the context of SCI, because of their crucial role in modulating immunity and inflammation throughout the body.
Diet’s Role in Spinal Cord Injury Recovery
Treatment for spinal cord injury is difficult. It includes a combination of surgery, physical therapy and adaptive devices. Most of these treatments aim to treat spine health directly, but secondary side effects such as gut dysbiosis are given less attention.
You might be pleased to know that proper nutrition can effectively balance the gut microbiome. Maintaining a healthy weight and balanced diet has a knock-on effect on the rest of the body. Eating foods with health benefits that counteract the body composition changes that follow a spinal cord injury is ideal.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight After Spinal Cord Injury
Body composition is the amount of bone density and muscle mass compared with body fat a person has. It’s a good indicator of overall health and something that should be monitored following a spinal cord injury.
According to guidelines offered by the NSW State Spinal Cord Injury Service, it’s normal to experience weight loss immediately after injury. This is due to paralysis and an increased workload for the body. After a while, however, this weight loss tends to slow down and even reverses. If you start to notice weight gain later, that’s also normal.
Although a common side effect of spinal cord injury, maintaining a healthy weight should be a priority for anyone wanting to stay healthy. To work out your ideal weight range, medical professionals use an indicator called Body Mass Index (BMI).
Bone Health After Spinal Cord Injury
Like muscle, bone density may also deteriorate after an accident or injury. Most people lose bone mass throughout areas of the body that are below the injury area. The loss tends to be rapid in the first 2 years after injury, after which it slows but never stops.
Getting enough calcium in your diet is critical for keeping bones as strong as possible. Healthy bones are less likely to break, as bones with low density become very brittle. As well as spine health, proper nutrition promotes healthy bones elsewhere in the body.
Healthy Diet for Spinal Cord Injuries
Healthy food choices for spinal cord injury patients include a balanced diet of complex carbs, protein, vitamin D and green leafy vegetables. Healthy fats also reduce inflammation caused by spinal cord trauma. Foods like avocado, olive oil and oily fish are a great source of healthy fats.
Everyone’s different, but a diet plan for someone with a spinal cord injury might look something like this:
- Scrambled eggs with spinach and tomatoes
- Whole-grain toast
- Low-fat yogurt with berries
- Herbal tea or water
- Apple slices with almond butter
- Grilled chicken or tofu salad with mixed greens, quinoa, cucumbers, and bell peppers
- Olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing
- Carrot sticks with hummus
- Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts
- Baked salmon or plant-based proteins (like beans and lentils)
- Steamed broccoli and roasted sweet potatoes
- Mixed green salad with a variety of colourful vegetables
- Wholegrain roll
- Mixed nuts and dried fruits
- Aim for a steady intake of water throughout the day. Adjust based on individual needs and any bladder management considerations.
Nutritional Products for Spinal Cord Injury
Some people find they need additional nutrition support after suffering from a spinal injury. If you or a loved one struggles to stay healthy, additional nutritional products can help.
NutriKane™R is a Food-as-Medicine product scientifically formulated with natural ingredients to optimise regularity. It’s the ideal nutrition support for anyone who finds it difficult to get the right nutrients from diet alone. We still recommend making healthy food choices, but NutriKane™ R gives you that little extra boost when you need it.