Gastroparesis is commonly known as “slow digestion” for a prolonged period of time. As a result, food sits in the stomach undigested and can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, early satiety, and bloating. This disorder of the digestive tract is prevalent in about 27 to 58 percent of those with type 1 diabetes and about 30 percent of those with type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is one of the leading causes of gastroparesis. It can develop over time, especially if blood sugars are uncontrolled. This is due to damage that happens within the vagus nerve, a nerve that connects the brain and the abdominal organs. Having too much glucose in the blood saturates the endings of the nerve and blocks the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the organs. Ultimately, the stomach cells stop functioning properly and lead to gastroparesis.
How are blood sugars affected by gastroparesis?
Most of the carbohydrate digestion happens in the stomach. When carbohydrate digestion is delayed and then enters the small intestine for absorption, it will be processed more slowly and at unpredictable time. This can cause fluctuations in the glucose readings due to slow digestion and absorption of food.
Diet to manage blood sugars
Diet changes can greatly help improve gastroparesis symptoms and complications. Working with a dietitian and certified diabetes educator on individualized dietary changes can make a person’s meal plan more enjoyable. Some changes in the diet include:
- Having small meals and staying well hydrated, especially if experiencing vomiting.
- Foods that take longer to digest should be reduced (or avoided in some cases) such as high fiber or fat foods.
- Cook all vegetables because the tough fibers in raw vegetables need extra time to be broken down in the stomach.
- Limit high-fat meals such as whole milk and ice cream. Keep in mind the total fat you eat at once. An example would be avocado salad with peanut dressing and mozzarella cheese – while these are healthy options, the fat content in foods might slow down digestion further!
- Reduce intake of carbonated beverages.
Medications to manage blood sugars
To aid in managing blood sugar, people need to work with their physician, certified diabetes educator, and dietitian to create a plan that works for them.
Some changes in the medication regimen include:
- Taking insulin more often
- Taking your insulin after you eat instead of before you eat
- Checking your blood glucose more often after you eat to better match insulin to the delayed rise in blood glucose
While gastroparesis can be a chronic condition that can be managed with diet and medication therapy. Talk to your doctor, certified diabetes educator, and registered dietitian for more guidance that will meet your personal lifestyle and needs.