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Down Syndrome – How May Functional Medicine Help?

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Down Syndrome and Nutrition

Can good nutrition and lifestyle changes help with Down Syndrome?

World Down Syndrome Day is celebrated annually on 21st March. The theme this year is ‘End the Stereotypes’, with the event aiming to advocate for the rights, inclusion and wellbeing of people with Down syndrome. 

In support, this article will highlight the particular nutritional needs of those affected by Down syndrome. Around one in every thousand babies worldwide are born with Down’s.

What is Down Syndrome?

Down’s is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome. This causes certain genes and therefore enzymes to be over-expressed or switched on, creating imbalances in the body. 

Down syndrome affects everyone differently, but commonly, memory and cognition are impaired. This means it takes those with Down’s longer to learn new information and skills. People with the condition characteristically have widely spaced eyes, a flat nose and are under average height.

People with Down Syndrome are at an increased risk of suffering from many health issues. These include heart issues; poor vision; thyroid problems, frequently causing overweight; gastrointestinal disturbances; and vision and hearing impairments, especially glue ear (otitis media). Their immune systems often struggle, too, meaning they’re more vulnerable to picking up infections. Finally, they are more likely to experience sleep disturbances, including problems getting off to and staying asleep, lower quality sleep and sleep apnoea.

Of course, some symptoms might not be reported and therefore difficult for parents and caregivers to pick up.

Nutrition and Down Syndrome

Because of their risk of developing health issues, many people with Down’s have additional nutritional needs.

Digestive issues are common, including GERD, IBS and food sensitivities. Frequently, people with Downs suffer from poor absorption of nutrients, leading to deficiencies. Research suggests that the bacteria in their gut microbiome differ from those of people without the condition, and this difference correlates with the degree of cognitive impairment. Finally, coeliac disease is more prevalent in those with the condition, so a gluten-free diet may be recommended.

The immune system in Down’s is often compromised. This can not only increase the risk of picking up infections but may also lead to autoimmune diseases. This is when the immune system starts to attack the body’s own cells, and these conditions are more prevalent in Down syndrome. The immune system and the gut bacteria are closely linked. Supporting both will help to guard against metabolic syndrome and manage elevated inflammation, common in people affected by Down’s.

Because people with Down syndrome experience accelerated ageing and increased oxidative stress 1, antioxidants are particularly important. These protect DNA from the damaging effects of free radicals. Research has shown those with the condition tend to experience problems in methylating, a vital chemical process occurring in the body’s cells. This can contribute to degeneration of nerve cells earlier in life than usual.

Poor methylation means people with Down’s are not able to produce enough of certain antioxidants within the body, and they may be low in folate 2. Antioxidants  found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables can help make up this shortfall. Plenty of antioxidants may also help protect eyes from damage from free radicals.

Evidence suggests osteoporosis is more prevalent in those with Down syndrome. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that they are consuming sufficient calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D and vitamin K. Many people with Down’s suffer from intolerance to dairy, meaning calcium is best obtained from non-dairy sources. These include sesame seeds (tahini is a good source) sardines with bones, leafy greens like kale and Bok choy, beans and tofu. Vitamin D is scarce in food, being mostly obtained from exposure to sunlight, so a supplement may be advisable, particularly during the winter. Weight-bearing exercises like walking and rebounding can be useful in maintaining bone health.

Finally, healthy fats are particularly important because they’re crucial for healthy brain neurones. They’re found in oily fish, nuts and seeds.

Personalised Support for Down Syndrome

If you are caring for a person with Down Syndrome, or you have the condition yourself, we can support you on your journey.

Some people with Down syndrome struggle to make healthy nutritional choices. Others are especially sensitive to different textures and flavours, and prefer familiar foods. This can make dietary changes challenging without professional help.

Supporting gut health, especially the microbiome, will be particularly important, however every person with Down’s is an individual and therefore their nutritional needs are unique. We use cutting-edge tests to assess digestive and thyroid function, find out how efficiently cellular energy is being produced, and discover any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances.

Anyone with Downs, although at a higher risk of certain health issues because of their genetic makeup, can also develop health problems that aren’t a direct result of their extra chromosome. All this means diet and lifestyle changes may have a very positive effect. Click here to make an enquiry.

References

Did you know you can request a FREE 15 minute Discovery Call

Do you or someone you care for need personalised natural support for Down Syndrome? Then book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you.

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