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WSA Blog: Health and Wellness

  • Katie

Nanci Rogers, MSN, CRNA

The WSA has always strived to provide current, relative, and quality information for individuals with Williams syndrome and their families. Medical research, education, technologies, housing, and social issues continue to be at the forefront of our concerns.

The time has come to add Health and Wellness (excellent nutrition!) to our list. Several of you may recall our initial “small” steps along this path with my "Nuts about Nutrition" column in the newsletter. Beginning this year we will be expanding the concept substantially with information on:

  • the relationship between nutrition and disease;
  • empowering individuals of all ages to implement “one simple change” in eating habits and lifestyle on the way to great health habits;
  • linking WSA members to nutritional and fitness videos and webinars in a library on the WSA's website;
  • providing a health and wellness component (recipes, fitness, research, group events, etc.) to the WSA Website and Facebook page, as well as conferences and the convention. Social media enables us to communicate a wealth of information however, it can be overwhelming. A panel that includes a dietician, medical, fitness, and holistic health representatives will help screen and review all educational material.

I am excited to be involved with the WSA and share my passion for inspiring Healthy Living. The information in this first blog is aimed at children (age 4+) and adults.  An excellent general resource for feeding infants and toddlers with WS is available from the Williams Syndrome Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital (PDF).  

During the winter months, especially in the colder states, many of us are challenged by the added stress of dark, gloomy days and the desire to curl up on the couch with a blanket and a bag of chips. Post-holiday blues and the ever prevalent cold and flu season all lead to a depressed immune system - right when we need it the most!  Regular exercise and good nutrition are just as important, if not more so, during this time of year. Here is a 3-2-1-0 plan to keep your child with WS (and the whole family!) healthy during the winter months:

3 or more servings EACH of fruits and vegetables every day. For adults, a serving of fruits and vegetables is equal to an entire fruit the size of a tennis ball; 1/2 cup of chopped fruit or vegetables; or 1 cup of raw, leafy greens. For younger children, a serving is an amount equal to the size of the palm of their hand. A good general rule is to serve about 1 tablespoon per year of age for each type of food offered. Let the child decide how much to eat. A child's appetite can change from day to day. Is your child a picky eater (like MOST children with WS)?  I will be posting additional information on how to get your child to eat more fruits and vegetables in the days to come.  Choose immune boosting vitamins, such as A, C, and E, which are all plentiful in dark colorful produce. Sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, kale, papayas, bell peppers, and oranges are readily available in the winter months.

2 or fewer hours of TV or computer screen time per evening. Watching TV or using a computer, tablet, or phone before bed, has been shown to interfere with sleep. Some people are more sensitive to the EMR's that are being transmitted off the screens. Reading a book and taking a warm bath are still great ways to help everyone wind down after an over-stimulating day. Work hard to get enough sleep - seven to eight hours per night is recommended. Losing sleep weakens the immune system by reducing the production of cytokines, antibodies, and white blood cells.

1 or more hours of physical activity. This includes any kind of continuous movement. Research has shown that regular moderate exercise keeps the immune system more resilient. Not all of us are able to run or cycle for a full hour. An hour can also be divided into 4 -15 minute increments or two half-hour segments. Start by initiating movement for the amount of time that seems right for you and work up to the hour per day. Everyone has to start somewhere on their journey towards Wellness!

0 sugary drinks - yes zero!!! Scientists for the Journal of Nutrition have determined that high fructose consumption results in lower levels of cardiovascular protectors such as HDL cholesterol and adiponectin.  This is due, in part, to how the body metabolizes fructose at the cellular level. A wealth of scientifically validated research studies now address the importance of eliminating all fructose (including fruit juice) from the diet of children and adults to help dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Again I want to emphasize - One Simple Change. If you and your family can start to reduce one sugary drink per day, week, month - wherever you can, it will be a good start.  You will be surprised how quickly it will become a non-issue. What should you use as a replacement beverage?  Water is the best choice. Try drinking a large glass of water first thing when you get up in the morning. Dehydration is common denominator in chronic fatigue.

How has better nutrition affected our family, and especially our daughter with WS?
Our daughter, Brittany (24 yrs old), had always been a "white eater" - milk products, pasta, mashed potatoes, and bananas. She now has improved her palate and taste for vegetables and fruits - she began with trying more vegetables with dinner and then realizing she ate all of what was on her plate- beets, broccoli, spinach, etc.  Brittany now asks for the addition of vegetables to her favorite dishes and is making better choices, such as water instead of coke or Pepsi when ordering food at restaurants.  

Hopewell Industries (Brittany’s employer) has helped as well.  They bought aeroponic vertical tower gardens and this has helped her learn to speak about nutrition in the community. 

Lab work also documents Brittany's improved health.  Her cholesterol and LDL are lower, her blood pressure has been in normal range (following 10+ years of hypertension!), and her attention and focus is better.

Is there a way to help get more fruits and vegetables into the diet of picky eaters on a daily basis? 
Whole food nutritional supplements, not vitamins, are one answer. Capsules or chewables such as those made by Juice Plus, JuiceFestiv or ORAC Energy Greens (organic) provide whole food nutrition that is safely and easily absorbed by the body.* 

Remember: an apple a day keeps the doctor away!

*You should always check with your physician before adding supplements to your diet.

Nanci Rogers, MSN, is a Board Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist with 20 years' experience in OB and general surgery.  She is also a regular speaker on women's health, food and nutrition and lifestyle changes.  Nanci is a former WSA Trustee and has served on many county and community boards.  She and her husband, Tim, have two children, Brittany (WS) and Brian.