The importance of nutrition for health in patients with transfusion-dependent thalassemia

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Abstract

Nutrition is increasingly being seen by care providers as important for patients with thalassemia. However, the definition of optimal nutritional support and the means to provide that support remain elusive. This review focuses on the relationships between nutritional status and three common comorbidities in patients with thalassemia: low bone mass, growth deficiency, and diabetes. The association between low bone mass and specific nutrient deficiencies (e.g., vitamin D, zinc) is clear, while the role of nutritional adequacy for young patients with growth deficiencies requires careful analysis to distinguish it from chronic anemia and endocrine insufficiency. Correction of isolated nutritional deficiencies in small cohorts of patients with thalassemia has shown some promise at improving both bone health and linear growth in the short term. However, the long-term safety and acceptability of these practices need to be evaluated. On the whole, there are few well-designed, adequately powered studies of the role of general dietary or specific micronutrients in the cause, treatment, or prevention of these commonly observed morbidities in thalassemia. Until these data are gathered, it is suggested that patients with thalassemia be monitored frequently and that their nutritional deficiencies be corrected when observed in order to advance their overall health and quality of life.

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