Getting proper nutrition is especially important for people with Huntington’s disease, a severe neurological disorder characterized by jerky movements (chorea) as well as emotional, behavioral and personality changes.
Why are diet changes crucial in Huntington’s disease?
Studies have found that Huntington’s patients are often underweight for their height, and require more calories than usual per day. This is because their constant movements and metabolic changes lead to higher energy needs. Specialized diet changes will ensure that patients receive enough calories through balanced diets and are able to overcome eating limitations.
People with a known risk of developing Huntington’s — such as those with a family history of the disease — may decide to begin consuming certain types of foods documented to be good for the brain. These so-called “brain foods” include vitamin B12, foods rich in antioxidants andg omega-3, and healthy fats, which are found in foods such as nuts, olive oil and avocados. Research has also suggested that a lower intake of dairy products may help delay onset of the disease.
Huntington’s patients should aim for a body-mass index (BMI) at the higher end of the healthy range, or a BMI of 24 to 26. Milk, yogurt, cream, cheese, beans, meat and fish are calorie-dense foods that can help achieve that. Sweeteners like chocolate, sugar, honey and syrup can be mixed into drinks and desserts for an added energy boost.
Swallowing difficulties and Huntington’s disease
People with Huntington’s may have trouble swallowing food, and can choke on food easily. Several measures can be taken to prevent this. Increasing proportions of soft food such as mashed potatoes, or adding gravy, can help ease swallowing. Difficult foods to swallow such as flaky puff pastry, raw vegetables, apples, pears and high-fiber white bread should be avoided. Eating small but frequent amounts of high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods such as avocados, smooth nut butters and hearty soups can prevent choking while ensuring adequate calorie intake.
It may be advisable to refer Huntington’s patients for speech therapy even before swallowing problems begin, since therapists are able to provide regular assessment and advice.
Tools for meal preparation and consumption
Kitchen tools such as a food processor and blender can help make food easier to swallow. Utensils that are easy to hold, larger plates, cups with lids to prevent spillage, and dishes to keep food warm for longer durations all will help Huntington’s patients enjoy their meals.
Tube-feeding in Huntington’s disease
People with advanced Huntington’s may no longer be able to feed themselves or safely take food by mouth. In these cases, tube-feeding, also known as enteral feeding, may be necessary. Tubes can be inserted either through the nose to the stomach (naso-gastric), or directly to the stomach (percutaneuos endoscopic gastrostomy) or small intestine (jejunostomy). Surgery is required to place tubes directly into the stomach or intestine.
The attending physician will usually suggest the option to begin tube-feeding, which can be done at home by the patient or with help from a caregiver.The site of tube insertion should be kept clean and dry. Special liquid food containing carbohydrates, protein, fats, minerals and vitamins can be given through the tube.
Huntington’s Disease News 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.