Food as Medicine: A holistic approach to blenderized tube feeding

A crunchy, vegetarian tree hugger, my commitment to natural healing has been a decades-long pursuit in my own life. When our son was born with fiber-type disproportion myopathy, his diagnosis meant a change of plans. I couldn’t nurse him; instead, I pumped breast milk for 22 months during which, despite his trach and muscle weakness, he never became ill. A tubie since birth, our son also had some experience with commercial formulas. As he grew, we needed to supplement breast milk with formula to meet his daily volume requirements, so we tried various formulas. Due to lactose intolerance, most did not work for him, and even the soy formulas caused vomiting and constipation, which we attributed to a sensitivity to the preservatives in these formulas. When I finally decided to retire the breast pump, we wanted to ensure that his diet remained wholesome and nourishing, so we elected to try a blenderized diet.

In our experience, some doctors prescribe medication as the first solution to any problem. As we transitioned from breast milk to real food, our son experienced constipation, which his doctors wanted to treat with a common commercial laxative. However, after reading about the active ingredients and potential side effects of this laxative, we decided to try some natural remedies to address the constipation. Using pureed leafy green vegetables, pears, prunes and probiotics, we were able to resolve the constipation, which is now a very rare occurrence. This success led us to begin thinking of food as medicine and learning about ways to support our son’s health through his diet. Since 70 percent of the body’s immune system cells are housed in the digestive system, it seemed natural and logical that keeping our son well would involve using the foods he eats.

The support of our son’s health care team has been tremendously helpful. With home nursing, our family had to shop around for a doctor who would write a prescription for a blenderized diet so that it could be administered in the home setting. We were fortunate to find a gastroenterologist nearby who employs a fantastic registered dietician.  She formulated and continually modifies a diet rich in organic fruits and veggies, beans and tofu, yogurt (sometimes homemade), oils, and whole grains to meet his daily nutritional requirements. She even helped us to find an organic soy formula that our son tolerates well to incorporate into the blend.

In addition to using food to remedy specific digestive issues, we use food for its therapeutic value. After a recent surgery, our son began to experience slow gastric emptying. His GI doctor suggested a laxative once again, as well as an antacid. Seeking an alternative to the undesired medications, we researched kid-safe remedies for digestion. With the help of ginger tea and peppermint tea instead of plain water for three days, the digestive issues went away. Following surgery, we also added turmeric, an anti-inflammatory spice, to our son’s blend to help with the healing process. Daily, we use fresh ginger, mint grown in our own kitchen, and cinnamon to help with digestion. The diet allows us to use vegetables we grow in our own garden, which are rotated regularly to expose our son to various vegetables and the myriad of nutrients they supply.

In a medicalized existence like our son’s, there are lots of chemical exposures that we cannot control: the heated plastics in his ventilator circuits, the plastic in the trach and g-tube, the toxins in the various medications that help to keep him healthy. However, his diet is one place where we can limit these exposures and try to eliminate the harmful effects of pesticides and free radicals. By shopping sales and referencing the “dirty dozen” list of the most highly pesticide laden foods, we can select organic and non-GMO ingredients as often as possible.

Nearly two years after implementing a blenderized diet, I am proud to tout the successes of our “food as medicine” approach. Our son, who was once in the fifth percentile for height and weight, is now in the 99th percentile, height-weight proportionate and very tall for his age. He rarely experiences constipation or vomiting. Most importantly, our son remains healthy and has not had an unplanned hospital visit since he was trached at two months old, which has allowed him to remain in the home without medical setbacks that can compound developmental delays. I believe, and his doctors confirm, that our holistic focus on our son’s health through his diet has had an immensely positive effect on his growth and development.

Complex Child e-magazine featured this article in its February 2015 issue on tube feeding.

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Charisse Montgomery is the author of the Super Safe Kids series of books and safety tools. These tools engage children, parents, and their families in improving safety and advocacy in the hospital, the community and the home. A former educator, Charisse Montgomery has earned bachelor's and master's degrees in English, along with a master's degree in Educational Psychology, with research focused on informing and empowering parents of medically fragile children. She completed a graduate certificate in Patient Advocacy and serves on the Board at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.

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