As someone who learned a lot about nutrition during my time in college, I find it fascinating how food interacts with the human body. Having health issues brings a new awareness of how important my diet is to my well-being.

It definitely does affect my quality of life, and those I know with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) say it seems to affect them similarly. These things I have learned are strictly related to this condition, not a diet for all to follow.

I dislike diets, and I learned in college to call it a lifestyle change. Diets are associated with weight loss and are disliked or ultimately rejected by the general population. However, there are a few things that I have found that really helped me and other alpha-1 patients.

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The first and more obvious one is drinking lots of water. I have some issues that affect my oxygen levels, namely, low blood pressure, asthma, and exercise intolerance. I learned that water significantly improves oxygen levels and while it does not cure anything, life is easier when I am drinking about a cup every hour or two.

Others I know with AATD agree that water not only provides oxygen to the blood that the lungs have a hard time retrieving otherwise but helps lessen the side effects of infusion therapy. It also helps detoxify the body if there are any liver issues in the patient. Besides preventing dehydration, water is my favorite thing to consume.

Read more about treatment and preventative care for AATD patients

To add to that, I really like multivitamins. I like multivitamins mainly because they provide support for the immune system, which is so important as an alpha-1 patient. I would do well to prevent even the common cold from wrecking my lungs. 

Besides protecting my immune function, vitamins just make me feel better. There is not only vitamin C but often vitamin D and iron, all of which are important, especially during cold and flu season.

The third thing I want to mention is the subject of many controversies and conversations. I hate to admit this because it is my favorite food group: carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates make up about 70 percent of the calories consumed by most Americans. Some, those on the keto or other such restrictive diets, are in the minority. Most women I know (including myself) have tried the keto diet only to find it was not a sustainable option for them. 

In my case, I landed square in the ER with major breathing and electrolyte issues after being on the diet for a solid three months. I was not overweight and had no reason to be on it except to see if it helped me feel better. I did feel better but only for so long.

Later, I learned that I was not eating enough calories. The carbs I wasn’t eating were important to hormone health, also. My hormones and energy level were both completely out of whack and it took weeks to recover.

Am I bashing the keto diet? No, not at all—in fact I know several people who have been on it for over a year and are doing great. There are things I could learn from them and I have done the research to know more about what diet I myself need to be on to be able to function.

I found that carbohydrates help with energy and hormone regulation. After I got back on a “normal” diet I regained my strength and composure somewhat. And I talked to two Registered Dieticians who set me straight.

One of them sat down and helped me draw up a meal plan that helped me feel better. She explained what happens when carbs are too low and how they can be too high, for sure. I had to turn them down a notch to keep myself from having a lot of acid reflux and immune system problems.

What I found very interesting is how hormone imbalance affects many things. I learned it affects energy levels, mood, and weight.

I remembered something my dietician stressed when I was trying the FODMAP diet; eating some, but not all carbs, were helpful in controlling asthma, at least for a while. I learned that no matter how much I like sugar, my body will suffer from eating too much of it.

In the past 10 years, I have learned that I really like having the energy to spend time with loved ones. I really have come to value these things that seem to keep energy up, excessive weight off, and reduce asthma attacks.

I am really enjoying knowing how to eat and applying it to my life. Everyone is different and my life is a complicated one, but it is not impossible to feel good about my eating habits if it’s a sustainable lifestyle.