Without a good nutrition, the immune system cannot perform its functions properly. This is why, it is required that a diagnosed cancer patient always receives an appropriate nutrition counseling, as it will ensure the treatment’s effectiveness, reduce adverse effects, and improve both, the patient’s quality of life and the illness prognosis.
When cancer is diagnosed, the patient feels that he is confronting a “giant”. Metaphorically, we can compare it with an “invasion”, an harassment to his inner and outer self. His constitution experiences changes, and he feels that he cannot manage them. The medical team prescribes him a treatment on which he also has no capacity to decide. This may lead the patient to despair and feel considerably defenseless, even though he is being rightly assisted and taken care of by the doctors. Why is it so? Because he feels that he can do nothing to counteract his illness.
Nutrition counseling and team work along with the patient help to improve his psychic and emotional strength. It is essential for the doctor to inform his patient, to help him learn from his illness and to offer him the tools to improve his general condition. If this is appropriately done, the ill person begins to feel that he “takes the bull by the horns” and that he is able to take control of certain aspects of his health, which increase both his physical and his physic strength.
The feeling of empowerment is fundamental to improve one’s own quality of life during the healing process. I like the following definition by WHO (World Health Organization): “It is a process that entails some kind of self-reflective action that allows people to do both, increase their control over their health and improve it”. Besides keeping one’s emotional balance, nutrition is undoubtedly the most powerful tool a patient has in his hands, for it favors one’s self-care and self-confidence.
There are multitudes of diets which have been used to treat cancer and many of them have proven to be beneficial (macrobiotic, ketogenic, raw-vegan, vegetarian, mediterranean, etc.). Nevertheless, the nutritional plan must always be individualised.
There are patients who better respond to vegetarian diets, and others who need a minimal contribution of high-quality animal protein. The same occurs with fat consumption. It is a good strategy to increase their intake when coming from healthy sources in order to keep their weight, though some patients do not tolerate it well. A meal plan must encompass the general health condition, the cancer type and phase, the nutritional condition, and the metabolic and chemical sensitivity of the patient.
To give an example, now studies are being conducted to ascertain the beneficial effects of ketogenic diet in cancer patients. It is a diet that contains 80% of their total calories in the form of fats and less than 15% in carbohydrates. This makes the body create a metabolic state of ketosis that could be helpful to fight against cancer. Animal studies are quite encouraging, but human studies need further investigations. In the clinical practice, these diets are very complex to implement and they have a great impact on the life of the patient. Moreover, not all constitutions accept this kind of diet. That is why, all nutrition strategies must be adapted to the individual tolerance.
The study of the benefits of a proper nutrition in cancer cases faces another problem, the reductionism. Most studies center on a specific nutrient or on a single nutritional strategy, when actually it is both, the diet and one’s life habits which can yield real benefits in the treatment. The problem is that making a study considering all variables is something difficult to do and, all at once, not measurable.
When a given cancer manifests in a body, we have to be aware that the cellular activity gets completely affected. Integrative nutrition does not focus on some affected target cells in our body but is a multifocal activity having a total impact on the individual.
A nutritional therapy in cancer cases should include the following fundamentals: being anti-inflammatory, natural, ecological, alkaline, and promoting the processes of toxin elimination; that is to say, having a cleansing effect and avoiding nutritional deficit.
Chronic inflammation has proved to be a central factor in tumor formation. Mutation of key genes of inflammatory control has evidenced an association with a higher risk of cancer progression. Certain inflammation indicators are related to a less favorable prognosis for cancer patients.
- Balanced as per Omega-3 and Omega-6 levels
- With a low glycemic index
- Free from environmental toxins
In addition, there are more than 150 epidemiological studies evidencing an inverse correlation between the intake of antioxidants and the risk of developing different kinds of tumors. This is the reason why a large consumption of vegetables and fruits would be beneficial during the treatment. Likewise, this food contains fibre which promotes the proper balance of the intestinal flora and transit; an important aspect to be taken into account during the treatment.
The caloric balance of the diet and the right intake of proteins are crucial, for the metabolic needs go on the rise. Undernourishment is a common problem among cancer patients which has been determined as an important component in adverse results and entails the increase of morbidity and mortality and the lowering of the quality of life. It is estimated that 80% of the cancer patients in an advanced stage experiment the so-called “Cachexia-anorexia Syndrome” characterized by loss of weight, lack of hunger, weakness frequently going together with nausea, anemia, feeling of fullness, and alteration in both, taste and smell.
In the medical practice, enriched hypercaloric formulas are used to increase the nutrient density of the diet. The problem is that such diets are rich in sugar and saturated fats and are chiefly based on dairy. Even when they entail a substantial increase in calories, they are harder to digest and inflammatory, and they provide the principal fuel for cancer cells, namely sugar. My advice is to prepare hypercaloric homemade shakes based on natural sources, such as dry fruits, coconut oil, wholegrain cereals, fresh fruits, and high-quality powder vegetal proteins, such as peas, hemp, or sunflower proteins.
A diet for a cancer patient should be designed in order to cleanse the liver, protect the intestine, and strengthen the immune system.
- Cleansing the liver: take green shakes daily, drink after every meal some thistle milk and boldo tea, prepare detox vegetable broths, and eat bitter vegetables, such as artichoke, dandelion, endive, or chicory.
- Protecting the intestine: avoid the intake of dairy products and gluten, eat vegetables at all meals to ensure the right provision of fiber, eat probiotic food like miso, sauerkraut, or kefir.
Increasing the defenses: include in your daily diet some antioxidant food, such as açai (palm berry), red fruits, green teas, curcuma, or shiitake. Avoid the shortage of zinc (present in fish, seaweeds, egg yolk, pulses, and mushrooms) and iron. Increase the intake of omega-3 fats (small size blue fish, linseed, chia) and ensure the proper vitamin D3 levels.
The food choice can be summed up in these 8 points:
- Consume organic food without any synthetic additives.
- Take large quantities of vegetables, stressing on the diversity and choice of vegetables of different colors to increase the intake of phytochemicals present in plants.
- Consume wholegrain cereals to ensure the right provision of slow-digesting carbohydrates, mainly during the first hours of the day, and avoiding refined food and cereals containing gluten.
- Take adequate quantities of proteins and calories to keep a healthy weight, stressing on proteins coming from pulses, fish, dry fruits, seeds, and organic eggs.
- Increase the intake of omega-3 fats as well as monounsaturated ones. Include coconut oil in your diet.
- Substitute milk, cheese, and ice cream for non-dairy alternatives such as almond, rice, oats, and quinoa drinks.
- Avoid sugar and high glycemic food. Take fruits and healthy sweetener alternatives such as rice molasses or Stevia when feeling the need for sweet things.
- Drink lots of water during the treatments. The most recommended drinks are filtered water, herbal teas, green tea, and green shakes to maintain hydration levels.
Nutrition counseling throughout the treatment is required to consolidate the diet transformation. It is important to ensure a proper nutritional status during the different phases of the treatment (as it may vary over time). Recommendations on convenient physical activities should be given to help the patient in working out the needed lifestyle change.
With courtesy taken from
Salud y Vida Natural N°13
Photos taken from
Elisa Blázquez Blanco
Head of the Department of Nutrition
Clínica Médica Integrativa, Madrid, Spain