woman making a fruit smoothie

Medical Nutrition Therapy

What Is Medical Nutrition Therapy?

Medical Nutrition Therapy differs from traditional medicine in the sense that instead of using traditional medications to treat disease, the patient is prescribed a customized nutrition plan that uses food as a means of treating the chronic condition. Each individually tailored plan is ordered by a patient’s physician, but it is created by a registered dietitian.

This approach operates under the evidence-based belief that food is meant to fuel and heal the body and that proper nutrition is essential to the body functioning the way it’s supposed to. 

In determining the best possible medical nutrition plan, the dietitian will take into consideration each individual child’s needs, which can vary quite drastically. It may consist of making a few changes or eliminating certain foods from a child’s diet, or the dietitian can also create a plan for a child who requires a feeding tube.

In the book, Healthy Brains, Healthy Children, by Dr. Coralee Thompson and Dr. Philip Maffetone, the authors describe how even children who are fed intravenously can ingest whole, real foods, instead of the synthetic liquid formulas that are usually given.

“Almost any combination of food can be cooked and blended smooth enough to pass through gastric tubes and even small nasogastric tubes… The benefits of giving liquefied whole foods cannot be matched by any commercial enteric formula.”

What Conditions Can Benefit From Medical Nutrition Therapy?

Autism:

Brittyn Coleman, of Autism Dietitian, creates customized nutrition plans for individuals with autism. She uses a holistic, functional medicine-based approach to treat the root causes of the symptoms the child is experiencing, instead of just treating the symptoms. 

In this video, you can hear more about the Autism/Nutrition connection, and how nutrition can help treat many of the root causes and symptoms of autism.

By using biomedical testing, she is able to obtain individualized results, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. On her website, she explains, “There is no one diet or treatment for every individual on the autism spectrum, so by using testing, we are able to develop a diet and supplement regimen that reduces inflammation, repletes nutrients, increases cognition, and sets your child up for optimum health and the greatest quality of life.” 

Biomedical testing consists of several different options:

Food Sensitivity -- Since food sensitivities are common with autism, this testing can pinpoint exactly what those sensitivities are. By adjusting the medical nutrition plan accordingly, inflammation and gastrointestinal issues can be alleviated. Unlike food allergies, this panel identifies inflammation caused by certain food proteins that may cause underlying problems.

Microbiome Panel -- Children with autism may have an imbalance of gut bacteria, which a microbiome panel can identify. This panel also tests yeast, parasites, and digestive function.

Organic Acids Testing -- According to Coleman, the OAT test provides a “metabolic snapshot” of what is happening in a child’s system, which can help identify underlying causes of illness.

Nutrient Deficiency Testing -- Children with ASD may be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, which this testing can identify. Foods containing those nutrients can then be incorporated into the medical nutrition plan, alongside nutrition supplements if necessary.

Nutrigenetic Panel -- This panel examines a child’s genes to identify if they might be unable to break down and store certain nutrients from their diet and supplements. 

Epilepsy:

Medical Nutrition Therapy can be helpful for epilepsy, and the most popular diet plan is the ketogenic diet which consists of eating a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. It can be prescribed to help children who suffer from refractory seizures.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, other dietary therapies that may be introduced include a modified-Atkins diet, which is another low-carbohydrate diet, and also a Low-Glycemic index diet. 

ADHD:

A healthy diet plan may help children with ADHD manage their symptoms. Meals rich in protein and complex carbohydrates can provide sustained energy and help stabilize blood sugar. Nutritionists may also recommend minimizing sugar and simple carbohydrates to avoid spikes in blood sugar, which can trigger ADHD symptoms.

Cerebral Palsy:

Many children with Cerebral Palsy have different caloric needs -- either fewer or more -- than other children their age due to their amount of muscle tone. It is recommended that a family work with their occupational therapist and a nutritionist to determine their child’s dietary needs and restrictions. Children with Cerebral Palsy may benefit from supplements of vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus for bone health and additional protein for tissue repair. They also may require a feeding tube, and a Medical Nutrition Therapist can help them make sure they are getting the proper nutrients they need.

Where Can I Find a Medical Nutrition Therapist?

Medical Nutrition Therapy is covered by several insurance plans. Consult with your pediatrician, and he/she will be able to recommend a registered dietitian who will work with your practitioner to create a custom nutrition plan for your child.