If you have immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a bleeding disorder characterized by a low blood platelet count, your hematologist may recommend some lifestyle changes to help promote your overall well-being.

One of these changes may include making food choices that support your physical health.

While there’s no concrete evidence that a specialized diet can increase your platelet count, eating well may help you manage your symptoms. It can also help you avoid interactions with ITP medications so that your therapies work better.

Read on to learn more about the role food plays in living with immune thrombocytopenic purpura.

There are at least four general reasons to pay attention to diet if you live with ITP:

  • Some foods contain nutrients that may support healthy blood cells.
  • A healthy diet may help manage fatigue, a common symptom of ITP.
  • Medications for ITP may cause adverse health effects, which you may ease with healthy eating.
  • Therapies for ITP may not work as well when combined with certain foods.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Managing fatigue with proper nutrition

In a 2017 booklet produced by the ITP Support Association, the organization revealed survey results around fatigue among its members in the United States and United Kingdom.

Forty-three percent of the 386 people in the survey with active ITP had significant fatigue, while 28 percent of the 226 people whose ITP was in remission also had significant fatigue.

While specific foods might not immediately raise platelet count, nutritious eating can help manage this fatigue.

The Association recommends plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread and other starches, lower-fat dairy, lean meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds. They also recommend avoiding foods high in fat and sugar.

Ease adverse effects of ITP medications with food choices

When ITP causes significant bleeding, glucocorticoids such as Prednisone are often the first line of defense. This medication, and others you may take to treat ITP, can affect your health in other ways.

To mitigate the side effects of these medications, you may choose to make new food choices.

Prednisone, for example, can increase appetite, raise your blood sugar, and affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium. As a result, you may choose to eat more fruits and vegetables and limit simple carbohydrates like sweets.

Children or adults who don’t respond well to corticosteroids may be prescribed thrombopoietin receptor agonists — which aim to increase platelet production — such as Rituximab, and tiredness and nausea can be common side effects.

These types of side effects may inspire you to occasionally alter your diet in order to get proper nutrition even when you don’t feel much like eating — like swapping in a premade, protein-boosted smoothie when you don’t feel like making a full meal.

Talk with your doctor about your specific medicines and how they can otherwise impact your physical well-being. If significant diet changes are required, they may recommend you talk to a nutritionist to develop a personalized eating plan that can set you up for success.

Reduced effectiveness of ITP therapies due to certain foods

Some medications you receive for ITP may not work as well if you eat certain foods.

For example, grapefruit juice and citrus sodas may exacerbate the effects of cyclosporine, which is an immunosuppressant drug that’s sometimes prescribed for more severe cases of ITP.

People taking prednisone also have to be careful when it comes to eating a lot of salt, since the drug may cause fluid and salt retention.

When you get a new treatment plan from your doctor, discuss which foods to avoid or limit and how your food choices can support the effectiveness of the therapy.

Generally speaking, the best foods for ITP are those that are considered “whole” and nutrient-dense. In other words, you should try your best to limit packaged or processed foods.

The vitamins and minerals in whole, unprocessed foods can provide your body with energy and help reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases.

An ideal diet for ITP should consist of foods like:

  • whole fruits
  • vegetables (especially leafy greens)
  • skinless poultry, such as chicken breast and ground turkey
  • fatty fish, such as salmon
  • healthy fats, including avocado and olive oil
  • flaxseed
  • nuts and nut butter
  • whole grains
  • eggs
  • low-fat dairy products (in moderation)

While there are no foods that are currently “off limits” for people living with ITP, focusing on a diet that promotes optimal health may mean that certain foods have to be limited.

It’s also important to make sure you’re accounting for any other health conditions or allergies you may have. Talk with your healthcare team about foods to avoid based on your ITP diagnosis and any other underlying health conditions.

Some foods to avoid may include:

  • ultra-processed foods like fast foods
  • foods and beverages high in added sugar, like candy and soda
  • processed meats like bacon and pepperoni
  • fried foods like fries and fried chicken

There are a variety of foods and drinks that may change the function of your platelets and could possibly make it harder for your blood to clot.

But if you have a reasonably high platelet count and few symptoms, it’s likely that none of these options will cause problems unless ingested in large quantities.

Some of these foods and drinks include:

While it’s true that alcohol can sometimes act as a natural blood thinner, your doctor may want you to limit it because it can aggravate certain symptoms of ITP, including insomnia, fatigue, and depression.

Even though an occasional glass of wine might not significantly affect your condition, if you live with ITP, it’s probably a good idea to talk with your doctor about alcohol consumption.

In the same way that a nutritious, well-balanced diet can help manage a number of chronic diseases, your personal journey with ITP can be supported by the foods you choose to eat and the foods you choose to limit.

While there’s no specialized diet for this condition, eating whole foods may help with fatigue, which is a common symptom of ITP.

Talk with your doctor if you have any specific dietary restrictions or concerns about your food choices.

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