Diet During Cancer Treatment Important Suggest Studies
It makes sense that patients undergoing cancer treatment require high-quality nutrition – after all, chemotherapy and radiation put immense strain on the body. More recently, though, studies into the relationship between diet and cancer treatment have revealed that specific dietary standards can decrease the likelihood of malnutrition in cancer patients and may even improve treatment efficacy. It’s evidence that Hippocrates was right when he said, “Let your food be your medicine and let your medicine be your food.”
Diet And Inflammation
One of the most prominent research findings regarding diet and cancer patients relates to the impact of food on bodily inflammation. Just as individuals with other chronic health problems like arthritis, lupus, and other autoimmune disorders benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet, cancer patients experience long-term benefits from such meal plans. Recent research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, for example, shows that breast cancer survivors have a reduced risk of heart disease mortality. In an extended survey, those patients following an anti-inflammatory diet had a 56% reduction in heart disease mortality after 13 years.
Reducing inflammation is a high priority in cancer patients both because it can worsen outcomes for patients currently in treatment and because chemotherapy is an inflammatory agent. That means simply being treated for cancer can increase the risk of additional health problems. Unfortunately, it can be hard to prioritize a special diet when cancer makes patients feel ill and can lead to serious malnutrition.
Developing Patient Meal Plans
So what exactly should cancer patients be eating to reduce inflammation and improve health? Most physicians and dietitians recommend a plant-based diet, as these fruits and vegetables contain anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that can reduce C-reactive protein and other inflammation markers. In particular, foods like pomegranates, blueberries, cherries, and certain nuts, act as cancer inhibitors. Pomegranates, for example, contain the enzyme paraoxonase-1 which minimizes oxidative stress on the body, reducing the likelihood of mutations.
It should be understood that anti-inflammatory diets aren’t intuitive; patients and their families require substantial education if they’re going to follow such a diet. This can take place under the guidance of a hospital dietitian or with assistance from another organization. At the Gawler Cancer Foundation, for example, attendees are served an anti-inflammatory diet and, along with family, taught how to prepare it at home.
Though most research into anti-inflammatory diets for cancer patients emphasize plant-based diets with added lean protein, there is also some interest in using the ketogenic diet in the same context. The ketogenic diet, though heavy in meat and fats, was actually designed as an anti-inflammatory treatment for epileptic individuals in the 1920s, which suggested that it might lend itself to other medical applications.
Despite contradicting the plant-based diet guidelines, the ketogenic diet is a promising cancer treatment because tumors strongly prefer to feed on glucose. Since glucose is limited in a low carb, high-fat diet, though, tumors are deprived of food. Additionally, as Barbara Gower, a professor of nutrition sciences explains, the ketogenic diet reduces insulin, which is a growth factor. As such, tumors are not only starved, but also denied growth-stimulating hormones. Overall, researchers believe that the ketogenic diet may be best for estrogen-sensitive cancers, such as ovarian and breast cancers.
The most serious dietary concern when treating cancer patients, of course, is not whether they follow an anti-inflammatory diet but whether they receive sufficient nutrition at all. In fact, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, 65-70% of oncology patients suffer malnutrition during treatment.
Treatment regularly causes GI issues, including nausea and vomiting, change in sense of taste, mouth sores, and difficulty swallowing. All of these elements can make it difficult to follow any diet, never mind a special anti-inflammatory plan. When they are able to eat, most patients with these feeding complications crave plain, comfort foods.
One way to help patients follow a healthier diet despite treatment complications is to emphasize nutritious, convenient foods that require little preparation. Yogurt, cream of wheat-style cereals or oatmeal, pureed fruit, and eggs are all ideal easy foods for cancer patients who need a nutritional boost.
Proper nutrition gives cancer patients the energy they need to withstand treatment and heal, and anti-inflammatory diets, in particular, may improve long-term survival rates and post-treatment health.
Though nutrition presents an ongoing challenge for all cancer patients, maximizing the nutritional value of what patients can eat while minimizing inflammation causing foods is a key first step towards better quality of life – during treatment and beyond.