Coping with Cystic Fibrosis?

My five-year-old son has cystic fibrosis. Have you dealt with others who have this disease? If so, do you have any recommendations for alternative medicines?

– October 16, 2002

Updated on 6/30/2005

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a chronic, progressive disease of the body’s mucous glands that primarily affects the respiratory and digestive systems. As you know, the thick mucus characteristic of CF accumulates in the intestines and lungs and can lead to malnutrition, poor growth, respiratory infections, and breathing problems. CF patients can also develop a long list of other medical problems. However, my colleague, pediatrician John Mark, M.D., who has treated a number of youngsters with cystic fibrosis, stresses that the course of the disease varies greatly from patient to patient.

Until we learn how to cure cystic fibrosis – probably through gene therapy – the best physicians can do is treat the symptoms. In a young, relatively healthy youngster, Dr. Mark says that the most important treatment – conventional or alternative – is nutrition, because children who are growing well have slower progression of their lung disease. Dr. Mark noted that many health care providers and parents are so focused on increasing the weight of children with CF that they’ll allow patients to eat fast food and junk food – not a good idea. Here’s what he recommends:

  • Decrease omega-6 fatty acids (most refined vegetable oils, like safflower, sunflower, corn and sesame). Check labels: these oils are in many snack foods. Replace them with monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, expeller-pressed canola oil or grape seed oil.
  • Decrease saturated fats (red meat, dairy and coconut oil) and replace with soy-based foods and nuts (such as walnuts, cashews and almonds).
  • Increase omega-3 fatty acids (wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, freshly ground flaxseeds, walnuts, tofu, and other soy foods).
  • Decrease consumption of refined and processed foods, especially products sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup.
  • Emphasize carbohydrate foods on the low and mid levels of the glycemic index (chewy, grainy breads, beans, sweet potatoes, etc.).

Dr. Mark also stresses the importance of exercise, especially activities that emphasize breath work. He views martial arts as the best choice.

He also recommends that his young CF patients take a good multivitamin as well as antioxidants to build lung and liver health (at your son’s age, half the adult dose is appropriate). And, he also suggests probiotics, products containing “friendly” bacteria that can lessen both lung and digestive problems. One good product is Culturelle, providing a strain of lactobacillus (lactobacillus GG).

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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