Category Archives: Lo-pro Diet Management

Home Blood Phe Monitor: A PKU Pregger’s Dream

During the 2014 National PKU Alliance Conference this past summer, an update was given on the development of a home phe monitor, a device that would allow people to check their blood phe levels immediately from home. In this video interview, produced by Kevin Alexander, Dr. Tom Franklin, chair of the National PKU Alliance Scientific Advisory Board, says that after receiving 128 proposals from scientists representing seven different countries, nine were selected in April 2014 for Phase II and were required to submit detailed concepts for the monitor by July 2014.

Unfortunately, a single proposal won’t be selected for moving forward with development of a prototype until December 2015. Even then nothing is guaranteed, but nonetheless, allow me to explain why an at-home phe monitoring device would be my ‘dream come true.’

Many of my readers are aware that I’m pregnant with my first child and as I prepare to hit the 30-week mark this weekend, I’m well beyond the point in my pregnancy when Madison has started to process phe for me. In order to make sure my current phe allotment is still appropriate, I use a lancing device to gather a blood sample every Sunday, allow it to dry overnight and then mail it in Monday morning. Yet, as I write this blog entry, the last phe result I received was on Aug. 19 for a level I took on Aug. 10. For those of you who are counting, that was more than three weeks ago. Neurotic, Type-A-Personality folks like myself can’t help but worry about how much has changed in that time span.

When my blood work leaves my mailbox Monday morning, it’s probably fair to estimate a two-day delivery time with the U.S. Postal Service. So what happens once it reaches its destination to cause it to be delayed so much longer? Well, in my case, the level likely arrives at the hospital warehouse where it is processed for an internal delivery system. In some cases, clinics decide to hold a patient’s level until they have enough in-hand to justify the cost of processing them (most clinics will place a maternal PKU patient on a priority list). And then there’s just plain old human error. Levels are lost, stuck in interdepartmental tube delivery systems and who knows what else!

To be clear, I’m not trying to place blame on any one person or organization. Heck, even I realize that my decision to transfer care to another state also plays a role in this conundrum. The point is there are many reasons why the turnaround for blood phe results moves slower than molasses. No doubt, the ability to use a home phe monitor would vastly improve many lives in the PKU community.

Until that day, I’ll continue to play catch-up with how fast Madison grows and the protein she needs for that development. I’ve decided to overnight delivery of my levels (which, by the way, costs me $20 a pop). I also have started to send them directly to my clinic, bypassing the hospital’s warehouse; ultimately hoping that all of this will help improve the situation.

I’m curious to hear if others in the PKU community have had similar frustrations with the time it takes to get back blood test results. Have you and your clinic come up with other unique ways to improve the process for submitting levels through the mail?

–NM

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Filed under Conferences & Events, Lo-pro Diet Management, Maternal PKU, Research, Technology

Calories – Why you’re not just counting phe during maternal PKU

maternal pku, counting calories, low-protein diet

Like most women, I am no stranger to counting calories and limiting the amount I eat each day in order to lose or maintain weight goals. When returning to the low-protein PKU diet in January 2013, consuming a higher amount of calories was definitely a major concern of mine. In fact, I would say that calories – more so than taste – was a key decision factor for when selecting a formula. Let’s face it, when you’re drinking formula three and four times a day, those calories can rack-up fast!

But all that had to change after finding out I was pregnant.

Eating right during pregnancy

Before discussing calories and maternal PKU, here’s a quick look at what the National Institutes of Health recommends for progressively increasing calories throughout the course of a pregnancy:

  • 1st trimester: 1,800 calories/day
  • 2nd trimester: 2,200 calories/day
  • 3rd trimester: 2,400 calories/day

I suspect that because of the old adage, “when you’re pregnant, you’re eating for two,” most pregnant women do not have any trouble meeting those calorie goals. But if you have PKU, and are challenged with a low-phe tolerance, meeting those goals can seem next to impossible. Yet, doing so is just as critical as making sure you limit your protein intake.

Why you must count both phe and calories for maternal PKU

If you do not consume enough calories, your body can enter what’s known as a catabolic state. It’s a big concern for those in the bodybuilding industry because without adequate post-workout nutrition (a.k.a. a protein shake), bodybuilders are at risk for excessive breakdown of muscle mass and could thereby end up throwing all their years of hard training down the drain.

While counterproductive for fitness gurus, this catabolic phenomenon can be downright dangerous for someone with PKU. That is because when you’re not getting enough calories your body tries to compensate by breaking down muscle for energy. And since muscles are comprised of protein, blood phenylalanine levels will increase as a result – this despite the fact you may be strictly adhering to a low-protein diet. As you can imagine, this could also have grave implications for maternal PKU since phe levels are doubled when crossing the placenta.

Five tips for getting those calories

So what’s a gal to do? First and foremost, I had to switch my train of thought. While still self-conscious about pregnancy weight-gain, I realize that there’s more at stake than my ego. There’s a baby now that depends on me to set all that aside and make sure I tackle the daily balancing act of eating right. Here are a few other tips I learned along the way:

  • Switch to a higher calorie formula – As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I made the decision to switch to a formula higher in calories. I’m currently taking four, 50 gm servings of Phenex-2 per day, which accounts for 820 of my daily caloric intake.
  • Create a stash of low-phe/high-calorie snack options – My favorites are Welch’s Fruit Snacks (0 mg/80 calories per 0.9 oz. packet), Rice Krispies Treats (26 mg/90 calories per bar) and Little Debbie Zebra Cakes (38 mg/161 calories per cake). Adding Biscoff European Cookie Spread (25 mg/90 calories per tablespoon) to low-protein raisin bread or apple slices is another great way to increase those calories. Though not really a snack option, making pancakes using the Cambrooke Foods MixQuick product is another great way to front-load your day with a high-calorie breakfast. I usually half the serving size, which still comes out to 200 calories.
  • Always pack snacks – Make sure to also carry some snack options in your purse, car or backpack. This will help prevent you from being hungry while stranded without food options.
  • Take the time to figure out the calories/per serving of your favorite low-protein recipes – In order to have the most accurate picture of how many calories you still need, be sure to take the time to figure out the calorie equivalents of each recipe ingredient. I was particularly challenged with this when eating my favorite Cook for Love recipes. Thankfully, with the recent launch of the How Much Phe website, this process is not nearly as painful. If you haven’t subscribed to the site as of yet, I highly recommend it – especially if you’re pregnant with PKU.
  • Replenish what your burn – Lastly, don’t forget that if you exercise, you’ll need to eat more than what your PKU dietician has recommended. Tracking calories burned during exercise is not an exact science, but I have found that mobile apps like My Fitness Pal and RunKeeper can be very helpful in providing an approximate calorie deficit count. My Fitness Pal can be used as an electronic food diary but unfortunately it isn’t all that convenient for those on the low-protein diet. However, I’m still able to use the app in a limited fashion by setting up a user profile that tracks my current weight, sedentary lifestyle, and estimates how many calories burned after completing a workout. RunKeeper is another calorie tracking app that uses GPS to track run/walk distances and then estimate the number of calories burned. I use both on a regular basis and have found that RunKeeper is great for cardio and My Fitness Pal is good for other exercise options like weight lifting and prenatal yoga.

I should also say that I haven’t taken this as a free pass to eat whatever I want. If I notice at the end of the night that I’ve already met my calorie goal, but still need some phe, I’ll opt for some yogurt or other low-calorie option to meet that goal without going overboard on the high-sugar, high-calorie options.

–NM

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On the hunt for aspartame-free gum

aspartame gum, sugar-free gum

Growing up on the low-protein PKU diet, I was well aware to stay clear of chewing gum that contained aspartame (also marketed under brand names AminoSweet ®, Equal®, NutraSweet® and NatraTaste®). I had a ‘safe list,’ if you will, of all the brands I could choose from, but after searching through all my familiar fav’s on a recent visit to the grocery store, it appears that nowadays you cannot find a single pack of gum that doesn’t contain aspartame.

Discovered in 1965 and later approved as a food additive by the FDA in 1981, aspartame is used in chewing gum to provide a long-lasting sweet sensation since other ingredients such as sugar, dextrose, and corn syrup dissolve soon after chewing begins. Chemically, aspartame is comprised of a small amount of methanol and the two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine – the last of which we know is very harmful to PKU patients.

According to www.aspartame.org, aspartame is currently found in more than 6,000 products worldwide including soft drinks, confections, gelatins, dessert mixes, puddings and fillings, frozen desserts, yogurt, tabletop sweeteners, and some pharmaceuticals such as vitamins and sugar-free cough drops. That’s a lot of products for PKU patients to be wary of!

Thankfully, with the growing popularity of all-natural products, there’s a new selection of chewing gums hitting the market featuring xylitol, an all-natural sugar alcohol. Also, since xylitol is an anti-microbial, it helps prevent tooth decay and provide a quick breath-freshener, especially after just chugging a serving of PKU formula.

Here’s a look at some of the aspartame-free gum currently on the market. Since they’re still rather new, finding these in common grocery and drug stores is difficult, but I’ve been able to buy some online, specifically through Amazon. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to find these products at specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Jungle Jim’s or Earth Fare.

aspartame-free gum, PKU-friendly gum

Click to enlarge image.

  • Pür Gum
  • XyloBurst Xylitol Gum
  • Epic Xylitol Gum
  • Peppersmith Chewing Gum
  • Sugar-Free Glee Gum

If you’ve tried any of these aspartame-free gum products – or have others to add to the list – just let me know in the comments section below.

–NM

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Filed under Lo-pro Diet Management, Product Reviews

At-a-glance PKU Pantry Labels

At-a-glance PKU Pantry Labels

One of my recent Pinterest-inspired projects was creating burlap labels for my pantry. It’s a fun DIY project that spoke to my inner organizing freak.

Grouping similar products in baskets or other containers make it easier to find products quickly and placing ingredients in clear jars let you know when you’re getting low. Among other labels, I decided to create hanging canister labels for brown sugar, wheat starch and baking mix—three ingredients I use frequently, especially when making tasty PKU-friendly cakes, cookies and pastries.

At-a-glance PKU Pantry LabelsI use Cook for Love’s baking mix, which if you’re familiar with it, you know it is comprised of three key ingredients. To make life a little simpler, I decided to make an at-a-glance label on the backside of the baking mix canister that reminds me of the key ingredients without having to look it up online or find the recipe I printed eons ago. Also to save time, I like to make the baking mix in bulk. In fact, I have doubled the baking mix recipe in the canister shown here.

If you aren’t necessarily the crafty type, you can still take a similar approach by a using a large, sealable plastic container to make the baking mix and a permanent marker to jot down the ingredients on the outside of the container. Not as pretty, but definitely just as functional. Just remember to whisk before each use!

–NM

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Setting a standard for the treatment of PKU

new PKU guidelines, PKU standards, dietary and medical recommendations for PKU

There’s some wonderful news floating around the PKU community this week: The American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, in partnership with Genetic Metabolic Dieticians International, have released the first-ever, specific medical and dietary guidelines for the treatment of PKU. These guidelines are based upon the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 2000 Consensus Conference for PKU, the 2012 NIH Scientific Review Conference and a review by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

If you aren’t familiar with the healthcare industry, you may be asking yourself, “What’s the difference between medical consensus and medical guidelines?” Last year (in 2013), the NIH retired its consensus development program, but since it was created in 1977, the program created agreed-upon statements interpreting what was currently known about a medical condition as well as what research gaps might still exist. These statements—like the one the NIH issued in 2000 for the treatment of PKU—are then used to develop medical guidelines. Your medical team located at your local PKU clinic will use these guidelines to support the decisions they make related to your care. The introduction of these guidelines will undoubtedly play a critical role in ensuring that all patients in the U.S. and Canada receive the highest quality of care and treatment in the management of their PKU.

Listed below are the key recommendations from the new guidelines as summarized by the National PKU Alliance. Be sure to visit the New Guidelines for PKU section on their website to read a full summary or to download the new guidelines for the medical and dietary management of PKU.

  • The guidelines refer to PKU as phenylalanine hydroxylase (PHA) deficiency.
  • The treatment of PKU is lifelong with a goal of maintaining blood PHE levels in the range of 120-360 umol/l (2-6 mg/dl) in patients of all ages for life.
  • Patients treated within the early weeks of life with initial good metabolic control, but who lose that control in later childhood or as an adult, may experience both reversible and irreversible neuropsychiatric consequences.
  • PAH genotyping (i.e. mutation analysis) is recommended for improved therapy planning.
  • Medical foods (formula and foods modified to be low in protein) are medically necessary for people living with PKU and should be regarded as medications.
  • Any combination of therapies (medical foods, Kuvan, etc) that improve a patient’s blood PHE levels is appropriate and should be individualized.
  • Reduction of blood PHE, increase in PHE tolerance or improvement in clinical symptoms of PKU are all valid indications to continue a particular therapy.
  • Genetic counseling should be provided as an ongoing process for individuals with PKU and their families.
  • Due to an increased risk for neurocognitive and psychological issues, regular mental health monitoring is warranted. A number of screening tests are recommended to identify those in need of further assessment.
  • Blood PHE should be monitored at a consistent time during the day, preferably 2-3 hours after eating.

In the coming days and weeks, I’ll take a closer look at some of the specific issues outlined within the guidelines and discuss them in more detail here on PKU Parlor. I hope you’ll stop by and chime-in with your thoughts too!

–NM

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Filed under Advocacy, Lo-pro Diet Management, Research

Six things to know when selecting a new PKU clinic

transferring medical care, PKU, phenylketonuria, finding a new PKU clinicTransferring medical care to another provider can be a daunting process for just about anyone. For those of us with PKU – a rare condition affecting 1 in 10,000 to 15,000 – finding other professionals who are qualified to treat our condition might seem so unlikely that the feeling of uncertainty suppresses any intent we originally had for making that change. Yet, having a clinical team that both performs at a high level and achieves some level of compatibility with its patients is critical to ensuring successful treatment.

Setting PKU aside for a moment, consider how you might react after hearing the news that you needed to have open-heart surgery. It would not be unreasonable to expect that before electing to have the procedure you would conduct your own research, check hospital rankings and gather data about the surgeon’s experience. Open-heart surgery may be an extreme scenario to compare to the treatment of PKU, yet I would argue that the motivation for seeking out the best medical care should apply as much to a rare, chronic condition as it does to severe and sudden medical emergencies.

Perhaps no one has better illustrated the importance of a solid physician-patient relationship than Jessie Gruman, the founder and president of the Center for Advancing Health, when she served as a guest blogger for KevinMD.com. In the post, she writes:

“If I feel she has really listened to what is going on with me and what it is going to take for me to do what she recommends … if we together make a plan about next steps … if I trust her expertise and experience, I am much more likely to try to do my part. On the other hand, if I feel like she sees me as just the next problematic body part to appear on a fast-moving assembly line, if she is talking at me, not with me, if she interrupts, corrects me or ignores me, all bets are off. I’ll take her recommendations under advisement but do what I think is best.”

Earlier this year, I made the very personal decision to transfer my care to another PKU clinic. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, nor did I make it in haste. I wanted to ensure that the professionals I partnered with were experienced with maternal care, had a successful (and recent) track record with mothers who successfully gave birth on the PKU diet, and most importantly, I wanted a clinical team who was refreshingly optimistic about working with maternal PKU patients.

Despite my motivation for transferring my medical care, PKU patients and their families seek-out alternative clinics for a variety of reasons. Not everyone looking for a new clinic does so out of dissatisfaction.  Families relocating because of a new job will also gather insight on new clinics located in the communities where they plan to move. Since it is conceivable that all PKU patients and their families might one day be faced with the task of finding a new PKU clinic, I thought it would be helpful to share some tips for making the transition as smooth as possible.

With that in mind, here are six things to know when selecting a new PKU clinic:

TransferringMedicalCare-No1What other metabolic clinics are located nearby? Are there other clinics in your state or what about across state lines? BioMarin’s PKU.com has a ‘clinic finder’ tool that will allow you to search for clinics based on your zip code and the mileage you are willing to travel.

TransferringMedicalCare-No2Does the new clinic accept your current insurance coverage? Contact your insurance company’s customer service department (the number is usually located on the back of your insurance card) and ask them to look up the new physician to see if they are considered ‘in-network.’

TransferringMedicalCare-No3Is there a fee to release your medical records? The federal law known as HIPAA, short for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, guarantees the right to access your own medical records; however, some clinics may charge a fee to release them. Georgetown University’s Center on Medical Records Rights and Privacy offers a complete list of state-specific record release laws and fees. In some cases, if you request to have your medical records sent directly to the new clinic you may be able to avoid the processing fee.

Once you have found a possible new PKU clinic, schedule a new patient appointment and be candid about the objective of your meeting. You should approach this appointment with the same mentality as a job interview – making sure they are as good of a fit for you as you are for them. Here are some questions worth asking any new metabolic clinic:

TransferringMedicalCare-No4How frequently would you be required to visit the clinic? At a minimum, most PKU clinics prefer to see their patients on an annual basis; however, the frequency of visits may increase for some patients depending on the nature of their care. For example, newborns recently diagnosed with PKU and maternal PKU patients may need to travel for in-clinic visits more often. Thankfully, technological advancements are making it easier for healthcare providers and patients to work together remotely. Ask your clinic if they are comfortable handling a portion of your care remotely. As long as they are receiving regular blood levels and you are talking with them often via phone or email, they may not have any issues.

TransferringMedicalCare-No5What do you know about the staff’s credentials and the clinic’s operations? More than knowing a practitioner’s education, training and certifications, do they have physicians specializing in maternal PKU, newborn screening, adolescents, etc.? You may also want to ask about the patient to physician ratio. Are they overworked and spread thin? How does the clinic prioritize patients and how long can you expect for a turn around on blood work, returned phone calls, new prescriptions and other administrative processes?

TransferringMedicalCare-No6Is the practitioner willing to work together with your traditional healthcare providers? If you are seeking out a new clinic for maternal PKU, is the physician willing to collaborate with your obstetrician? If you are a parent of a PKU child, is it important to you that a PKU clinic works closely with your primary care physician to track growth, developmental progress and other medical concerns?

Managing the PKU diet can be labor intensive in and of itself…that is without having to take-on the hassle of finding a new physician. But keep in mind that proactive decision making will give you and your family a greater degree of control over your treatment. And in the end, it will all be worth it.

–NM

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Creating a kitchen tablet holder for PKU recipes

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a third of American adults ages 18 and older own a tablet computer like an iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Google Nexus or Kindle Fire. That’s almost twice as many from one year ago. Chances are, folks in the PKU community are no exception to this growing trend. In fact, I tend to use my own tablet for referring to recipes as opposed to the traditional printed cookbooks. That’s where the inspiration for this DIY project came from. Here’s how you can also make your own kitchen tablet holder for PKU recipes.

DIY kitchen tablet holder for PKU recipes

First, I found an old cutting board from a thrift store for $1.50. Then I purchased a Scrabble tile holder from a local antiques and collectables store for $5. For a little embellishment, I found unfinished wooden letters from JoAnn Fabrics (although you could also find something similar at other hobby stores such as Michaels and Hobby Lobby). Lastly, you need a wooden wedge of sorts. My brother-in-law, who is handy with a power saw, made mine, but a child’s wooden block would also work. unfinished pics-croppedUse wood glue to assemble the pieces, allow to dry over night, and cover with your favorite paint color. I decided to use a slightly darker shade for the “Create” letters so that it would pop a little.

DIY kitchen tablet holder for PKU recipesEnjoy!

–NM

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