Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a common life-threatening condition that affects millions of people. Although it can be frightening if you have been diagnosed with MG, fortunately, there are many treatment options that can help you get your life back on track. Some medical practitioners recommend following a certain type of diet to minimize the symptoms of MG.
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What Is Myasthenia Gravis?
Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a chronic autoimmune disorder, which means that the immune system will erroneously attack the body’s own cells. In MG, the antibodies block, alter, or destroy the receptors used for muscle contraction. When this occurs, regular communication between nerves and muscles gets interrupted, causing the skeletal muscles to become weak. The exact cause of MG is unknown, and there is currently no cure for the condition. However, prompt medical care can help control the symptoms of MG and reduce or improve muscle weakness. There are several therapies available to help reduce and improve muscle weakness, but there is no definite treatment approach that is the best fit for all patients.
Symptoms of Myasthenia Gravis
MG mostly affects the voluntary muscles of the body, especially those of the mouth, throat, eyes, and limbs. The symptoms of the disease include:
- Weakness in the neck
- Drooping in one or both eyelids
- Blurred or double vision
- Change in facial expression
- Difficulty swallowing
- Impaired speech
- Shortness of breath
- Problems walking
- Weakness in the arms and hands
- A change in facial expression
In severe cases, myasthenia gravis may cause respiratory failure, which requires immediate emergency medical care.
Because the symptoms of MG can be similar to those of other autoimmune disorders, it is important to reach out to your physician for a proper diagnosis.
Best Diet for Myasthenia Gravis
If you have been diagnosed with MG, good nutrition is essential as it can have a big impact on your overall health. You should try your best to eat a balanced diet with the right mix of nutrients to ensure that your body functions well, your bones stay strong, and you have enough energy to be active.
MG may pose some challenges, such as muscle weakness, which could make it more difficult for you to eat certain foods. Medications used to treat MG may affect your appetite, your body’s metabolism, body weight, and your ability to exercise.
To make getting the nutrients that your body needs easier, you need to consider some changes to:
- The types of foods you eat and the way you prepare them.
- The way you chew your food.
- The way you sit when you eat.
- The way you plan your meals.
Each of these topics is covered in greater detail below.
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The Types of Foods You Eat and the Way You Prepare Them
You should generally eat a variety of foods, being careful to choose those that are low in fats, saturated fats, and cholesterol. Include plenty of vegetables, fruits, and grain products. Both sugar and salt should only be used in moderation. If you consume alcoholic beverages, you should do so in moderation as well.
One easy way to start is opting for softer foods, as these are easier to chew and swallow. Examples are mashed or pureed vegetables, canned fish, soup, egg salad, pastas, yogurt, tofu, cooked quinoa, overnight soaked oats, apple sauce, ripe bananas, and smoothies.
Foods that are rich in certain nutrients can be very beneficial as well, such as bananas, potatoes, apricots, avocados, and orange juice. These foods are rich in potassium, which is necessary for proper muscle contraction. Some MG medications may cause diarrhea which may result in low potassium levels in our system, giving more reason for eating foods rich in potassium.
Cooking your food by boiling or steaming can help with making some hard foods a lot softer and easier to chew, as well as helping preserve their nutritional value. Moistening solid foods with something like gravy, sauce, broth, or yogurt is a good way of softening food. Choose softer meats like fish or chicken over harder ones such as beef.
Fluids should be thickened to the consistency that your doctor recommends to avoid them from accidentally going into your lungs (aspiration), which can be serious.
The Way You Chew Your Food
You should always cut your food to appropriate bite-sized pieces, and limit each swallow to about half of a teaspoonful. You should always eat slowly, adequately chewing your food to make sure no large pieces are swallowed whole. And lastly, you should be sure to sit in an upright position and be careful not to tilt your head forward when swallowing your food. Other helpful tips include resting between each bite and resting before meals. Try not to talk while eating.
The Way You Plan Your Meals
Planning your meals well can have a very positive impact on your overall well-being. Helpful tips include eating several small meals throughout the day rather than having less frequent, larger meals. Eating your largest meal earlier in the day when your body still has more energy would make it a lot easier for you to chew and swallow your food.
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Foods Myasthenia Gravis Patients Should Avoid
There are certain foods MG patients should avoid as they either can increase the risk of aspiration or can be high in sugars or salts and other contents that can be harmful. Foods to avoid include:
- Dry/crunchy/crumbly foods high in salts, such as crackers, potato chips, rice, nuts, and many others.
- Bread products such as bagels, muffins, or sandwiches.
- Tough meats that are hard to chew and swallow.
- Processed foods such as baked beans.
- Canned vegetables.
- Foods with large quantities of caffeine, such as coffee and soda.
- Hot, spicy foods.
- Dairy foods such as ice cream, as such foods could worsen diarrhea that might accompany some MG medications.
Be careful, especially when sipping liquids, as they can get into your lungs and cause you to cough or choke. Be extra careful when you swallow foods that have both liquids and chunks/lumps such as chicken noodle soup or cereal in milk.
Tips for Eating With Myasthenia Gravis
Eat foods that do not leave residue in your throat to prevent making swallowing difficult:
- Avoid crumbly foods (crackers, cookies, chips)
- Avoid bread products
- Moisten solid foods
To reduce fatigue while eating, some considerations include:
- Eating several small meals instead of three large meals
- Eating the largest meal when you have the most energy in the day
- Cutting larger foods down into smaller bites
Always talk to your doctor or dietitian before implementing additional nutritional supplements to your diet.
Although myasthenia gravis is a condition with no exact cure, the management of the disorder has been improving over the years through advancements in medication. By practicing simple measures and applying the basic principles of good nutrition, a person with MG can live a more fulfilling and healthy life. Proper nutrition is one of the keys to a healthy life, and MG Patients should eat softer foods that contain the right mix of nutrients.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can a good diet cure Myasthenia Gravis?
No. However, following a good diet can help reduce symptoms. For example, foods rich in potassium and calcium can reduce fatigue in MG patients.
Can stress worsen your symptoms?
Yes, stress causes muscle tension. You can manage your stress level through meditation and deep breathing exercises, but if you don’t have time for these exercises or feel that they are not helpful, you should always talk to your doctor.
Can alcohol worsen MG symptoms?
Alcohol does not usually make muscle weakness worse, but it can cause blurred vision, loss of balance, and slurred speech. Drinking in moderation may not cause any harm, but make sure you first seek the advice of your doctor before consuming alcohol.
This information is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about your medical condition prior to starting any new treatment. AmeriPharma Specialty Care assumes no liability whatsoever for the information provided or for any diagnosis or treatment made as a result, nor is it responsible for the reliability of the content.
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Rafik Boctor, RPh was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. He received his degree from the Faculty of Pharmacy, Helwan University in 2011. The most rewarding part of his job is making positive changes in patients’ health and well-being on a daily basis. His areas of expertise include immunoglobulins, chemotherapy and biologics. In his free time, he enjoys playing guitar, singing, and Latin dancing.