Over the years and till tomorrow, if there is a question that people tend ask me time and time again, it’s about what food to eat or what to do to take good care of themselves or their children who have sickle cell. Today, I would like to address this question I am often asked.
Due to the shape of the sickle red blood, they do not last as long as the normal red blood cells. The unusual shaped red blood cells cause problems because they do not live as long as healthy blood cells and can block blood vessels. Normal red blood lives about 90-120 days, but sickle cells last only 10-20 days. The body is always making new red blood cells to replace the old cells. However, in sickle cell disease, the body may have trouble keeping up with how fast the cells are being destroyed.
If you have sickle cell, there will be moments that you have to take tablets, medicines and be admitted into hospital but try and let it be few and far between; this can be achieve if you take care of yourself.
In order to live a pain free life, it is important that we look after ourselves as best as we can. This means that I take supplements but also eat well and drink a lot of water, green tea, freshly squeezed juices. I can’t stress the taking of plenty water, as this would help keep one hydrated and also it will help in keeping the sickle shaped blood flowing. Make sure you drink bottled alkanised water and if you can’t afford it, pour water in a glass and add lemon into it, it becomes alkanised.
Drink fruit juices (fresh, not carton): beetroot juices, lemon and ginger; lemongrass and mint, mango and pineapple, mango and orange, melon and ginger or lemon, grapefruit and pawpaw (papaya). Make your combination but remember that the sugar content in fresh fruits can be quite high, so don’t drink every day. And that is why, when making combinations, I would use sweet and sour fruits, just to temper the sweetness down. You might think, this might take time and that is true however, once done, you would have enough to last a week or more. Keep them in the fridge or freezer and drink, when you want. This way, you know you are filling your body with beneficial nutrients. When going out, carry a small bottle with you.
Moringa is also available in people’s gardens or you can now buy the tablets. If you can, get the leaves; just infuse them in hot water and drink as tea by taking it like that or with honey. Hibiscus tea, zobo can infused in hot water and drink straight or add honey to taste. Try and take it without adding anything, avoid sugar. If you have a young child, give them a glass of milk a day, it will help strengthen their bones.
Or eat fruits that are in season. Whatever fruit is available, in the country that you live in, then eat especially as they help bowel movements. We know scientists say that the sugar in fruits can be too much for the human body, so eat fruits every other day, the main thing is eat fruits regularly.
When you have a crisis, after being admitted into hospital or taking strong opioids tablets, one thing that one suffers from is constipation or a bloated stomach. During such periods, I either drink orange or prune juice or take yoghurts or eat vegetables as these will help move the bowel.
In terms of supplements, there are loads that you can take: folic acid, vitamin C, (found in fruits), milk thistle, dandelion, black seed cumin; spirulina, ginko biloba, magnesium, zinc, and I take ginseng for strength, as I am sometimes so weak, even when not in pain.
When cooking, use natural herbs and spices to season; which you can buy in a bottle, grind or add whole: dill, anise, chives, bay leaves, basil, cumin, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, oregano, caraway, cardamom, chilli pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, curry, hyssop, marjoram, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, rosemary, saffron, sage, sorrel, tarragon, thyme, turmeric and vanilla. All these herbs and spices have their health benefits. Some can be added to food, when cooking or add them into hot water and take it as tea. They are filled with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients. Please do your research in order to know what to use and when.
In terms of meat, eat less of beef and more of lamb, goat meat, chicken, turkey, duck, guinea fowl, mutton, liver, heart, kidney, tripe and fish.
In terms of food, try as much as you can to eat these, on a regular basis: beans (in all forms), yam, sweet potato, Ugwu or waterleaf, bitter leaf, spinach, kale, all greens, (these are really good to help boost your iron; when I cook a vegetable soup, I will add two or more vegetables, for example, kale and ugwu). Cook okra, corn, carrots, mackerel, sardines, plantain, melon seeds, eggs, carrots, garden eggs, sough dough bread, millet, couscous, guinea corn, yam flour, plantain flour, cassava, brown rice, spaghetti, etc. This list is by no means exhaustive. I write this because I want you to be aware of what you are eating or feeding your child.
I also encourage you to know your body and know when to stop being busy. This is important as it will help in reducing the amount of painful crisis that one has. When you feel that your body is not 100 per cent, then I suggest that you take a hot water shower (pls check column on water therapy) or use as many hot water bottles as you can, if you are unable to have a hot shower. Whenever taking strong opioids, do not take them on an empty stomach, try and eat something. When waiting for the tablets to kick in, take deep breaths to allow blood and oxygen flow to your vital organs; I know this is difficult, when in pain but try.
If you are reading this and you or a sibling, friend, or child/ren has sickle cell, I know it can be tough sometimes but you have to help yourself as much as you can. The pain can be so excruciating that one would want to give up on life but I can assure you that life is worth living. When you are well, pain free; think about what contribution you can make to your environment.
What are you good at? What is your God-given talent? What skills have you got, that you are not utilising? Dig deep and bring out that untapped gift forth. The world is waiting for you to take your place doing something that you are good at.
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