Getting good nutrition is important for everyone, helping all your cells get the energy they need and keeping your organs functioning as they should. Eating a nutritious, high-protein diet is especially important if you're a polio survivor with weakened or paralyzed muscles. Along with careful management of your activity level, the right diet can help conserve your energy and keep you strong and your body in good condition.
Polio is a viral disease that caused large epidemics in the U.S. in the 1940s. The polio virus attacks nerve cells that control movement of muscles, causing paralysis when all nerves supplying a muscle are damaged, or muscular weakness when only some of the nerve cells that stimulate a muscle are involved. Although polio vaccination is now available, many people who had polio experience new muscular weakness later in life, a condition called post-polio syndrome, or PPS. Although accurate statistics indicating how many polio survivors develop PPS are lacking, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that 25 to 40 percent of polio survivors may experience the condition.
PPS and Blood Glucose
Your body converts nutrients in food into glucose, a sugar that travels in your blood and is an important energy source for all your cells. Polio survivors need steady and slightly higher than normal levels of blood glucose to have sufficient energy, according to Dr. Susan Creange, a post-polio expert at the Post-Polio Institute. Although the reason for this is not fully understood, polio-damaged nerve cells need higher glucose levels and more energy to function properly. Eating a diet rich in whole-grain breads and other foods, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, can help ensure that blood glucose levels rise at a steady rate and remain high for several hours after a meal.
Your digestive system breaks down proteins in food into their building blocks, called amino acids, which all cells need. Both nerve and muscle cells are especially dependent on a constant supply of amino acids to produce many important new proteins, such as neurotransmitters that help nerve cells communicate and proteins that help muscle cells contract. According to Dr. Richard Bruno, who developed the Protein Power Diet at the Post-Polio Institute, an ideal diet for a polio survivor who weighs 150 pounds includes 70 grams of protein each day. A protein-rich breakfast is especially important and should contain about 16 grams of protein, such as two eggs and an English muffin, which provide 16.5 grams. Lunch, dinner and any between-meal snacks should also contain high-protein foods, such as poultry or lean meats, dairy products and protein-enriched breads, to bring the daily protein total to 70 grams.
Staying at a healthy weight is especially important for polio survivors, since extra weight can strain weakened muscles easily and also puts stress on joints and bones. In addition to consuming sufficient protein and healthy whole-grain foods, polio survivors also benefit from avoiding saturated fats that can add body weight and are found in fatty meats, full-fat dairy products and other foods. Whenever possible, replace these with healthy, polyunsaturated oils such as olive and peanut oils and choose reduced- or non-fat dairy products. Check product labels on processed foods and avoid those made with saturated fats or trans fats, another type of unhealthy fat. If you have questions or concerns about dietary choices and their impact on post-polio problems, discuss these with a registered dietitian or consult your doctor.
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