Diets And Ostomies - What's Safe?
Dieting holds special risks for some ostomates. Before I go into this further, let me stress that I am talking here to those with urostomies and ileostomies as well as, to a lesser extent, those with transverse and ascending colostomies. If you have a sigmoid colostomy, then you can basically do what you like with regard to diets, within reason and common sense, as your digestive system behaves as 'normal.'
Before starting any diet, it is well worth seeing one's own doctor to discuss the suitability of the prefered diet with him or her because of the problems which dieting can cause as well as any underlying other medical conditions which may make dieting or a particular diet hazardous.
Let's look at the problems in more detail. The urostomate has special requirements to avoid dehydration so, provided that the urostomate doesn't cut back on fluid intake, then they, too, can generally diet as they wish. The guide for the urostomate, remember, is at least 3 litres (about 12 glasses) of fluids per day. However, any urostomate who has short bowel syndrome because of the surgery to make the ileal conduit needs to take the same precautions as an ilestomate as set out below.
The ileostomate has lost the ileocecal valve at the end of the ileum where it joins the cecum and the colon. This valve slows down the transfer of food from the terminal ileum (the last part of the small intestine) into the cecum to allow for greater absorption of food through the ileum. With the loss of the valve, food passes through the system faster so the food is less well absorbed. In addition, the colon absorbs mineral salts such as sodium and potassium as well as water from the stool. While the ileum takes over some of this role, ileostomates still lose ten times as much sodium and potassium as a person with all or most of a colon. These factors together provide the key to the problems which some diets may cause.
The Atkins Diet is very high in fat. Those ileostomates like me who occasionally (who am I kidding...too often is probably more accurate in my case!) eat a high fat meal know that we will have very runny output which floats because of the high fat content. It's called steatorrhea. The stool also tends to be frothy from trapped gases.
The food passes through the digestive system much faster than normal as it is lacking in fiber which gives the intestine something to 'push' against during peristalsis -- the wave-like movements of the walls of the intestine which move the food through the digestive system -- as well as being well 'lubricated' by the high fat content. The problem with this is that the rapid passage of this fatty food means that not only are essential nutrients in terms of proteins not absorbed, but the vitamins and minerals are not absorbed either, leading to malnourishment. One vitamin which is fat soluble and can cause problems is vitamin K. Vitamin K is necessary for the production of blood clotting factors and proteins necessary for the normal calcification of bone. Because vitamin K is fat soluble, the fat malabsorption caused by its rapid passage through the ileum may result in the person becoming deficient or short on vitamin K. The very fatty liquid stool just rushes through the ileum so that little is absorbed of essential nutrients. This also overloads the pancreas and can cause problems there.
The Atkins Diet, being high fat, can produce chronic steatorrhea in the ileostomate so that the person rapidly becomes deficient as well as lacking protein. Dehydration is also a problem as water forms an emulsion with the fatty stool and is less well absorbed. If this diet is continued, the person may suffer protein deficiencies as well as osteoporosis through the vitamin K problem mentioned above.
The recommendation from the medical profession for ileostomates and those with short bowel syndrome from their surgery (perhaps through adhesion removal) is to diet by reducing food intake of both fats and carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates such as sugar, while taking care to maintain hydration by drinking plenty of fluids. For example, baked potatoes are complex carbohydrates with virtually no fat. Add low fat cottage cheese and a helping of mixed salad (for me, lettuce, tomatoes, cress, beetroot, sliced peppers, etc.- you get the idea!) and you get a meal which is both low fat and low carbohydrate and also full of fiber along the South Beach Diet lines.
The Atkins Diet isn't suitable for ileostomates as there are too many risks of malnutrition causing unhealthy weight loss produced by loss of needed body tissue and lack of vitamins and minerals, as well as the risk of dehydration. A low fat, low simple carbohydrate with reduction in complex carbohydrates diet together with plenty of fluids is the safe way to lose weight.
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Content last revised 2004-10-05