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Why is nutrition important for managing various chronic conditions?


Many people with cancer lose weight during their treatment. Poor appetite can result from treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Weight is also lost when cancer causes the body to burn more calories than normal. Many people with cancer who are in treatment find it difficult to eat enough food to meet their needs. Their bodies may burn muscle and fat for energy. When people with cancer lose weight and have poor nutrition, their bodies cannot handle their treatment as well.


Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to use or make enough insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar in the body. People with diabetes must carefully plan the amount and type of foods they eat and the timing of meals and snacks to avoid high levels of sugar in the blood. High blood sugar levels can lead to other problems, including nerve damage, eye damage, kidney failure, heart disease, and problems with blood flow. Often, with some types of diabetes, people also must control their cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight.

Heart Disease

Heart disease causes the body to burn more calories than normal, resulting in weight loss. Many people with heart disease who are in treatment find it difficult to eat enough food to meet their needs. Their bodies may burn muscle and fat for energy. When people with heart disease lose weight and have poor nutrition, their bodies cannot handle their treatment as well.

High Blood Pressure

For people with high blood pressure, it’s important to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less salt and fat. Medications and diet restrictions can cause nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive problems. These conditions can sometimes make it difficult to eat enough food to meet nutritional needs.

Lung Disease and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is a group of lung diseases that cause the airways of the lungs to become inflamed and narrowed. People with COPD often experience shortness of breath, which can make preparing and eating meals a challenge. In addition, eating foods high in carbohydrates may make breathing difficult for people with COPD because these foods produce more carbon dioxide when broken down than proteins or fats. To help people with COPD get the energy they need, carbohydrates are replaced with beneficial fats, such as those found in olive, canola, or soybean oils.


Osteoporosis, a decline in the thickness of the bones because of age or illness, increases the risk that a bone will break. Taking more calcium to strengthen the bones can lessen this risk. Vitamin D helps the body use calcium, while minerals such as phosphorus and magnesium work together with calcium to improve bone strength.


The medical name for loss of muscle as you get older is sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can make elderly people lose strength and the ability to get around, which increases their risk of falling. Older people with sarcopenia may need others to help them with everyday activities, such as standing up or opening a door. Physical activity is needed to help  rebuild and maintain muscle. Getting the right amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals is also important to help people with sarcopenia stay strong.

I already eat a healthy diet. What can therapeutic nutrition do for me?

Everyone should try to eat a balanced diet to help maintain good overall health, regardless of whether they have a chronic health problem. However, therapeutic nutrition is different from simply choosing healthy foods. It provides important nutrients that can help people manage their chronic conditions. You may use therapeutic nutrition in addition to regular meals or choose to occasionally replace some foods.

Some people use therapeutic nutrition to help them heal faster, stay stronger in the face of illness, and respond better to medical care, such as chemotherapy and surgery. Talk to a health care professional to make sure therapeutic nutrition is right for you.

Does therapeutic nutrition affect other medical treatments?

You and your doctor must decide the best treatment plan for your health condition. Therapeutic nutrition may help improve how well your other medical treatments work. Your doctor or registered dietitian can help design a therapeutic nutrition plan that works with your treatment plan.

I am caring for a loved one who has a chronic condition. What can I do to make sure he/she is eating right?

Taking care of loved ones with ongoing health problems can be difficult, but good nutrition is an area in which you can take charge. Therapeutic nutrition products can supplement meals with necessary nutrition when loved ones cannot or do not want to eat certain foods. Providing a diet that is more nutritious and complete can help you both feel more confident.

Will my health plan cover nutrition services and therapeutic nutrition?

Some health plans may consider coverage for all or part of nutrition services provided by a registered dietitian. In some cases, health plans, including some state Medicaid plans, may cover therapeutic nutrition products. Most often, coverage exists when it is recommended by a doctor and serving as the only source of nutrition.

Each health plan is different. Abbott Nutrition’s PATHWAY Reimbursement HelpLine (1-800-558-7677) is a resource to help you understand insurance benefits, available product coverage options, and potential eligibility.

Can I use my HSA or SNAP to buy therapeutic nutrition?

You may qualify to use tax-free dollars through your Health Savings Account (HSA) to purchase some therapeutic nutrition. To qualify, your health care professional must recommend it for a specific medical condition. Certain products also may qualify for purchase under your Flexible Spending Account (FSA). Contact your FSA plan administrator for specific coverage information.

If you are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), you can use your SNAP benefits to purchase therapeutic nutrition products.

How can I get more information or advice about therapeutic nutrition?

Always start by talking to your health care professional. Your doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian, who will review your medical information, help you create a special diet, and show you how to use therapeutic nutrition to meet your specific needs.

Contact your doctor’s office to see if a registered dietitian is on staff, or find one in your area by visiting the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ online referral service.

Educational information provided with support from:

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