Nutrition for Encephalopathy

Encephalopathy is a condition where the brain becomes affected by the waste products and nutrients normally neutralized and balanced by the liver. It is marked by symptoms such as mental confusion, personality changes, and twitching. More seriously, if left untreated, encephalopathy can lead to coma and death.

Encephalopathy is still not completely understood, but there are two major nutritional components suspected of precipitating this condition. One is a waste product from protein in the diet called ammonia. High levels of ammonia build up because the diseased liver normally helps to excrete it out of the body. Your physician will usually prescribe both a protein restriction in your diet (usually 30-50 grams of protein per day) and a medication

such as lactulose which helps rid the body of ammonia. Protein should not be eliminated completely from the diet because it is still essential for the bodies nutritional needs.

Another component of encephalopathy is a derangement of actual protein parts called amino acids. Amino acids are like links in a chain, the chain being the whole protein. Two major types of amino acids become both abnormally high and abnormally low in the blood during encephalopathy. Aromatic amino acids become abnormally high, and branched chain amino acids become abnormally low. Several scientific research studies have shown benefit when a supplement drink high in branched chain amino acids is used in the diet during encephalopathy, particularly with malnourished persons prone to

infection and complications. Also, since vegetable proteins contain less aromatic amino acids than other foods, a carefully balanced vegetarian type diet is usually beneficial as well.

Other nutritional components are currently being studied to complete the puzzle concerning encephalopathy. Excessive manganese in the blood as well as a deficiency of zinc are possible suspects in the development of encephalopathy. However, more studies are still needed. Until then, your R.D. can help you tailor a food plan that may or may not include specialized supplement drinks during episodes of encephalopathy to fit your taste preferences, food tolerances, nutritional status, and disease state.