Barriers and facilitators to adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet for individuals with SCI

Spinal cord injury (SCI), a common cause of injury and fatality worldwide, is often associated with chronic inflammation, which is the immune system’s protective response to a harmful stimulus. Even when inflammation is low-grade, a chronic inflammatory state can be associated with common illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. As a result, reducing inflammation in patients with SCI can decrease the likelihood of secondary complications during recovery. Unfortunately, most pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory treatments have unfavorable side effects and are not suitable for long-term use. Research suggests that a specialized diet, rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, may be an adequate alternative to long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Although a specialized diet can significantly reduce inflammation after SCI, current studies suggest that patients’ adherence to the diet drops to 43% within one year. Clinicians want to understand the barriers and facilitators to diet adherence so they can ensure that patients are healthy and happy as they recover from SCI. To this end, a research team interviewed SCI patients who had recently tried an anti-inflammatory diet. They found that individuals who felt a strong sense of family and peer support were more likely to adhere to the anti-inflammatory diets. Furthermore, those who felt a sense of autonomy over their meal choices adhered to the diet more successfully. On the other hand, barriers to adherence included lack of motivation and lack of knowledge about the diet.

Individuals with SCI who adhered to the anti-inflammatory diet reported reduction in pain and improvements in cognition and mobility. However, a number of barriers can reduce the likelihood of successfully adhering to the diet, potentially reducing patients’ quality of life. Clinicians are advised to provide patients with supplementary information about the diet and to provide strategies for adherence.

Bailey KA, Lenz K, Allison DJ, et al. Barriers and facilitators to adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet for individuals with SCI. Health Psychology Open. (August 2018).

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