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Nutritional Status and CF-Related Diabetes

Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD) is a unique form of diabetes among people with cystic fibrosis (CF). It is relatively common and can affect both adults and children.1

In our 2020 Cystic Fibrosis In America survey, we explored the impact CF has on adults, from diagnosis, nutritional status, and symptoms to quality of life, relationships, and support. According to the survey, 28 percent of respondents have also been diagnosed with CFRD.2

Here, we share more about nutritional status and CFRD in people living with cystic fibrosis.

CFRD is not your "typical" diabetes

CFRD affects a person’s natural insulin, just like type 1 and type 2 diabetes. However, CFRD impacts insulin a little bit differently than in those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. In people with CF, the sticky, thick mucus damages and scars the pancreas, where insulin is created. It clogs the pancreatic duct, blocking insulin from passing through to other areas of the body that need it.3

CFRD can put people at risk for a number of health complications, including poor nutritional status like malnutrition, weight loss, and being unable to gain weight. It can also increase the risk of worsening lung function and even death.1

Malnutrition can cause long-term harm

CFRD is not caused by being overweight. In fact, one of the hallmark symptoms of CFRD is weight loss and difficulty gaining weight.1

This weight loss or the inability to maintain a healthy weight can lead to malnutrition and malabsorption. Both are issues that can greatly affect a person’s health. Malnutrition deprives the body of essential vitamins and nutrients, making it harder to fight off infections. Our study found that 11 percent of survey respondents reported some form of malnutrition.2

Seeing a nutritionist or dietitian can help

People with CFRD do not absorb nutrients as efficiently as others, and they also use more energy just to breathe. This means people with CFRD have different nutritional needs than people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. They need more calories to reach a healthy body mass index (BMI) and must eat a diet that is high in calories, protein, fat, and salt.3,4

Nutritionists and registered dietitians (RDs) can help people with CFRD by creating an eating plan that helps manage blood sugar levels and provides adequate calories and nutrients.2

According to our survey, 78 percent of respondents with CF say they see a nutritionist or dietitian as part of their CF healthcare team. Plus, 87 percent of caregiver respondents say their loved one with CF sees a nutritionist or dietitian.

Early diagnosis of CFRD can lead to a better quality of life

A 2017 study found that 50 percent of those with CF are diagnosed with CFRD by the time they are 30, with some children showing signs of early-onset diabetes by the time they are 10.2,4

While a CFRD diagnosis does come with additional health responsibilities, it is entirely manageable. Eating a high-calorie diet, managing blood sugar levels with insulin, and teaming up with a nutritionist or dietitian can help you to manage CFRD and enjoy a healthier life.

The 2020 Cystic Fibrosis In America Survey was conducted online from March through July 2020. The survey was completed by 404 people with cystic fibrosis and 230 people who are current caregivers.

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