Can You Prevent Disabilities through Nutrition?




Every mother has the right to respectful, high quality healthcare, especially during pregnancy and childbirth. ESTHER KIRAGU talked to a Clinical Nutritionist about preventable disabilities through diet.

According to Lawrence Mugambi a Clinical Nutritionist Lecture in food Nutrition & Dietetics at Kenya Methodist University (KEMU), there are several disabilities that can be prevented through proper diet during and pregnancy. Some of these include:-

Spina Bifida. This is caused by inadequate intake of folic acid. Scientists estimate that 70 percent of Spina bifida cases are preventable by taking folic acid. Some foods to include into your diet are lentils legumes, nuts, ovacado and dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, okra and spinach. To boost intake of folic acid during pregnancy, mothers
are advised to take Iron Folic Acid Supplementation (IFAS).

Mental deformities e.g. Hydrocephaly and anencephaly.

• Skeletal malformations. These are mainly due to calcium and mineral deficiencies.
Cretinism (mental and Physical retardation) this is mainly caused by iodine, zinc and other mineral deficiencies.

Even before you become pregnant, there are lifestyle changes that one can adopt that will promote a healthy pregnancy, possibly increase chances of having a healthy baby as well as reduce the risk of disabilities. As a rule of thumb, Lawrence advices against alcohol consumption as this may lead to foetal-alcohol syndrome and mental retardation to the child. Of equal importance is the need to avoid smoking and taking drugs. Research
has shown that maternal smoking is associated with birth defects, which include cardiovascular/ heart defects, musculoskeletal defects (problems associated with the muscles, bones and limbs), facial and eye defects, gastrointestinal defects and undescended testes.

Mothers should adopt intake of a well balanced diet to build good maternal nutrients stores, for a healthy pregnancy. Women of childbearing age are also advised to talk to their physicians about ways to achieve a healthy weight to make sure their pregnancy is a healthy one. If one suffers from diabetes, they need to see their physicians and make sure the diabetes is under good control.

Supplements play a great role in preventing disabilities and during pregnancy, nutritional requirements of the mother are increased due to development of the foetus. According
to Lawrence if these requirements are not met, malformation of foetus develops, predisposing the unborn child to potential disabilities. Therefore, a combination of supplements is used to cater for this increment. For instance, the ministry of health uses World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines that require every pregnant mother
to be put under IFAS (Iron Folic Acid Supplementation).


Once a child is born, attendance of ante-natal clinics for the mother cannot be overemphasized as this is where a doctor will monitor a pregnancy and facilitate diagnosis of any problem for early corrective measures. Lawrence cites that newborns should be screened  for disabilities before discharge from the hospital. The screening should look out
for any neurological problems; diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system for early intervention, any physical malformation and malnutrition cases.

After birth mothers are encouraged to breast feed exclusively for at least six months. According to Lawrence this plays a key role because breast milk is adequate in all nutrients for the first six months of life and will help in preventing both physical and neurological disabilities after birth.

If a child has a disability, it is advisable to consult a nutritionist on the diet to adopt for your child. Depending on the type of disability whether physical or neurological, your nutritionist will offer provision/ intake of the specific vital nutrients needed.



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