Most people think of nutritionists and dietitians only in terms of weight loss or weight gain. However, from my several years of practice as a nutrition consultant, I can safely claim that’s far from true. A major part of our role involves recommending dietary and lifestyle changes for patients of various illnesses. Here, I share a patient case study to highlight the role that diet and lifestyle changes can play in reversing serious illnesses.
My First Case: The Disaster of Ignoring Diet when Healing a Patient
A 34-year old male, my first patient had a demanding field job as an offshore engineer. His role involved walking for most part of the day as a Supervisor on an oil drilling rig in the Atlantic Ocean. The nature of his job required him to be active and alert for long hours. However, he had a hard time concentrating on his work due to health issues. He complained of being excessively tired and having a poor appetite and digestion.
In 2015, he was being treated for anemia at a well-known hospital by a senior surgeon. He was given some iron and Vitamin D supplementation, but no one had looked at his diet seriously. Despite completing 16 days of treatment, there was no improvement in his condition and his appetite was worse than before. That’s when he decided to consult a dietitian for advice.
During the initial consultation, I found the patient had undergone 8-9 surgeries of the colon (large intestine) as he was diagnosed with Hirschsprung Disease (HD). It is a disease of the large intestine, which causes constipation and blockage. It occurs due to poor muscle movements in the bowel. People with HD have constipation, because they lack nerve cells, either in the entire large intestine or a portion of it. In such surgeries, the surgeon removes segments of the colon and connects the healthy segments to the anus.
Now the large intestine plays an important role in absorption of nutrients from food. Anyone with parts of it removed would likely have trouble absorbing vitamins and other nutrients over a period of time.
Initial Assessment: Deficiency of Vitamin B12 & More
The patient’s blood reports revealed that his anemia had worsened since last year, hemoglobin levels had dropped from 11.2 to 10.7 g/dl (normal levels: 13-17 g/dl) for which he was recommended iron supplements by his doctor. I prescribed blood tests for thyroid hormones (T3, T4, TSH), calcium, lipid profile and Vitamin B12. His thyroid hormones were normal. He had an altered lipid profile, which showed high triglycerides, low HDL (low in good cholesterol), low LDL (low in bad cholesterol) while his total cholesterol was normal.
His food intake revealed small quantities of fried snacks daily and a frequent intake of chocolates. Overall, he was following an imbalanced diet that was low in protein with long gaps between meals due to the demanding nature of his job. His water intake was also lower than required.
As I had strongly suspected, his Vitamin B12 levels were very low (192 pg/ ml) compared to normal levels of 211-946 pg/ml. He was a vegetarian, and had also had multiple intestinal surgeries – both factors were strongly indicative of a likely deficiency of Vitamin B12.
The Right Nutrition Advice: A Game-Changer
After getting a thorough understanding of his case, I advised the following changes to his diet:
- Regularize meal timings to avoid long gaps between meals
- Intake of easy-to-carry healthy snacks while standing for long hours on the job
- Replace current food habits with nutritious and healthy food options
- Improve water intake to meet his daily requirements
- Include protein in the form of nuts, pulses, dairy, whey proteins
- Include curd for probiotics and easy digestibility
- Include iron and vitamin C rich foods
- Include foods rich in soluble fiber such as papaya & oats
- Exclude gluten-containing foods, primarily wheat
- Intake of juices to enable detoxification
- Intake of Vitamin B12 supplements
Apart from dietary advice, I also gave him some tips on stress management and suggested some easy exercises he could do while at work.
While I had given him a detailed diet and lifestyle plan, no plan is successful until the patient takes the responsibility of following it. In this case, the patient followed all of my advice, and that seemed to have worked wonders for his health.
Within 15 days of following the personalized advice, the patient felt energetic and all his digestive complaints had vanished.
When he got the desired results and health benefits, he came back with his wife and asked me to help her too, with a personalized scientific diet and lifestyle plan.
Healing the Root Cause: Lifestyle Changes Everything
This is a classic example of how it is possible to get back to one’s healthy self by fixing diet and nutrition and making the necessary lifestyle changes.
What all of us need to bear in mind is that chronic diseases – like diabetes, hypothyroid, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, etc., are not caused by a single cause, like a virus or a bacteria. Therefore, they cannot be fixed by a single magic bullet – like an antibiotic. These are caused by our lifestyle and thus can only be fixed by holistic changes in it. The right dietary supplements, at the right dose, for the right duration can help.
So go ahead – make conscious day-to-day efforts to eat right and have a healthy, vibrant life.
Editor’s Note: Have you made a change to your lifestyle or diet that made a huge difference to your health? Share it with us as inspiration for us all and stand a chance to win fabulous prizes! Write in through the Comments box right below.