Nutrition is medicine. With cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment, understanding the healing properties of certain foods, the body’s changing nutritional needs, and how to boost energy is an intrinsic part of what can be a long journey back to health.
Along with numerous research papers and study findings, there’s lots of anecdotal and traditional-medicine theories on what foods can actually cause some cancers in the first place. There’re also healthy nutritional pathways that can direct sufferers toward the road to recovery.
Nutrition for Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy may destroy cancer but it can also be a brutal treatment for the body too, leading to loss of taste, appetite and enthusiasm for food in general, not to mention dehydration, constipation and nausea. This is all on top of whatever symptoms a cancer patient might be experiencing due to the cancer itself. This varies, of course, depending on what stage and type of cancer someone has.
Bumrungrad Nutrition Support Team work closely with cancer patients to create personalized nutrition plans. However, there are certain broad nutritional tips to follow during treatment.
- Stay hydrated: Sickness and diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration and in certain cases an electrolyte drink or rehydration salts may be needed. Sipping water regularly is a good way to keep hydration in check. Water also helps flush out some of the by-products of chemotherapy treatment too.
- Avoid anything acidic or spicy: While citrus fruits may be rich in Vitamin C, they can irritate the digestive tract, as can a hot curry with chilis. Bland foods and drinks are gentler on what is undoubtedly an already fragile and compromised constitution.
- Eat small meals frequently: Big meals can be exhausting for the digestive system to deal with, especially when energy is being targeted toward fighting cancer and coping with the physical demands of chemotherapy. Less food, more often, can be easier to face for patients who are also off their food too.
- Focus on bowel health: Many medicines can result in loose stools and rice and fruit, such as bananas, can combat diarrhea. Chemotherapy can also lead to impacted feces if bowel movements aren’t kept regular. Adding in some insoluble fiber into the diet can help greatly with constipation.
- Stimulate the appetite while reducing sickness and nausea: Thai basil, mint, ginger, ginseng and cumin can all help increase hunger and the desire for food. Sipping a ginger tea and avoiding greasy foods, high-fat foods and rich foods can help too. Another good tip is to opt for cold rather than hot foods that have a stronger odor and can induce a sickly feeling.
- Stay away from foods that are prone to causing food poisoning: It’s important that anyone in a vulnerable position is extra vigilant at knowing what they are actually consuming. Fresh food that’s simple to prepare can provide just the right amount of nutrition, without running the risk of food poisoning. Restaurant food and food deliveries, while convenient, may contain ingredients that trigger a reaction.
It’s best that patients are boosted up nutritionally before they start chemotherapy which strips away healing nutrients. This may include more protein, from say the normal range of 1-1.2 grams/kg/day up to 1.5 grams/kg/day. Vitamin deficiency can be seen in certain cases, your physician might consider prescribing supplement support to ensure complete nutrition in a day.
Omega 3, a well-known anti-inflammatory can also raise HDL and decrease LDL which is bad cholesterol and. Meanwhile, a recent US study found that when the body metabolizes Omega 3 fatty acids it produces endocannabinoids which have tumor-fighting properties.
The world’s attention has been on the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric lately. Containing the compound curcumin, there’s no hard evidence that turmeric can prevent or treat cancer. However, research is ongoing and there’ve been several papers purporting evidence of the anti-cancer effects of curcumin. A Department of Pharmacology study at St John’s Medical College in India suggests piperine, found in black pepper, may improve curcumin absorption by up to 2,000%, while also helping to improve digestion.
Meanwhile in Thailand, getting some Vitamin D from the sun’s rays early in the morning can be a feel-good therapy too. In Asia, the medicinal effects of green tea as a powerful anti-oxidant are well-documented. It has to be noted, however, that there’s no proven evidence to suggest tea in general has anti-cancer potential.
What foods can cause cancer?
The overall medical opinion is that a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle can prevent some, but certainly not all, cancers. Evidence suggests that certain compounds can cause or at least increase the risk of certain cancer.
One of these is acrylamide, which is produced when food is cooked at a high temperature and essentially burnt. The sugars in the food and protein react to give whatever’s being cooked a golden-brown color, whether a chargrilled steak or some French fries.
Ethanol, in alcohol, is recognized as a known human carcinogen, contributing to a variety of different cancers from breast cancer to esophageal cancer and bowel cancer. Research into links between alcohol and other types of cancer is being studied too. Ethanol is broken down into acetaldehyde which can impact DNA and is believed to be what creates the carcinogen. Oxidation also damages the body, while the absorption of nutrients is decreased too. Alcohol, along with soy can boost estrogen levels, contributing to a higher risk of breast cancer. The process of creating alcoholic beverages potentially introduces harmful compounds too.
Studies suggest heterocyclic amines, caused by charred meats could be carcinogenic. The cancer-causing effects of deep fried foods is also under investigation as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a chemical that impacts people on an environmental level, is also found in foods cooked at temperatures higher than 350° Celsius.
Achieving a diet that aides a journey through chemotherapy takes knowledge and support, with a customized plan that gives cancer sufferers healing energy through nutrition. Bumrungrad Hospital’s Nutrition Support Team offer that support to inpatients and on an outpatient basis too.