Further to our last post, we are addressing lifestyle and dietary recommendations for patients with cancer. The last post focused primarily on lifestyle recommendations. In this one, we examine how diet can be crucial to cancer treatment.
It may be surprising to know that diet can assist in recovery from surgery and in improving tolerance to radiation and chemotherapy as specific dietary nutrients have properties that help to prevent or slow the development of tumours. There is evidence to suggest that patients who undergo conventional treatments without receiving nutritional support through diet have higher complication rates. Diet has been shown to prevent weight loss during treatment, to support bowel regularity; and to reduce localized areas of inflammation and pain.
Plant-based diets have been shown to be very important in cancer treatment. Fruits, vegetables and certain components of plant foods, such as fibre and polyphenols, have research supporting a protective effect against cancer. Research has been strong in certain types of cancers; particularly breast, colon and prostate cancers. There are key dietary changes that patients can make that will slow or reverse cancer.
A high fiber and low-fat diet can help with the proper circulation of estrogen in patients with breast cancer. This has been seen to decrease the risk for additional breast cancer events by 25% to 30%.
A dietary pattern characterized by significant reduction in the consumption of saturated fat, increased consumption of vegetable proteins with accompanying reductions in animal proteins and dairy products has been shown to significantly decrease prostate cancer progression.
Colon cancer development and progression is also influenced by diet. A diet that is rich in red meats, refined carbohydrates, dairy and eggs is associated with an increased risk for developing colorectal cancer compared to infrequent consumption. Additionally, vegetable fibre (even more so than fibre from grains or fruit) has been shown to protect against colorectal cancer.
Losing weight is also a very positive consequence of switching to a diet that is rich in plant-based foods. As we know from the previous article, obesity not only increases our risk of cancer but overweight individuals die sooner from cancer.
Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response; without it, we can’t heal. But when it’s out of control, it can damage the body.
Foods high in sugar and saturated fat can spur inflammation. They cause overactivity in the immune system, which can lead to joint pain, fatigue, and damage to the blood vessels.
Polyphenols are found in plant foods and spices and possess uniquely potent anti-inflammatory effects. In a study done with lung cancer patients, along with conventional treatments including radiation, surgery and chemotherapy, some patients were given a freeze-dried medicinal soup (made with soybean, shiitake mushroom, mung bean, red date, scallion, garlic, lentil bean, leek, hawthorn fruit, onion, ginseng, angelica root, licorice, dandelion root, senegal root, ginger, olive, sesame seed and parsley). Those patients who ate the vegetable soup had a median survival of 15.5 months compared to a median survival time of 4.5 months for those who didn’t eat the soup.
Anti-inflammatory supplements have been shown to decrease reoccurrence rates in patients with colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer as well.
Much research shows that it is sugar’s relationship to higher insulin levels and related growth factors that may influence cancer cell growth the most, and increase risk of other chronic diseases. Many types of cancer cells have plenty of insulin receptors, making them respond more than normal cells to insulin’s ability to promote growth. In fact, some cancers rely exclusively on insulin for their growth, including an estimated 27% of breast cancers.
All carbohydrates you eat are broken down to simple sugars in the intestine, where they are absorbed into the blood, increasing blood sugar levels. The pancreas releases insulin in response, which travels throughout the blood stream, and performs several important jobs. Firstly, insulin signals glucose to enter the cell to be used for energy. Secondly, insulin increases the storage of calories as fat. When insulin levels are high, it is a signal to the body that there is plenty of food available, and that these bonus calories should be used to grow and build reserves.
Eating a lot of simple carbohydrate at once can raise insulin levels quickly. High insulin levels can lead to a rapid fall in blood sugar, in a sort of “rebound” effect. Low blood sugar levels then signal the body that it is low on fuel. This triggers appetite, encouraging you to eat again, to bring blood sugar levels back up again. While levels are bottoming out, people are hungry, irritable and prone to overeating. This can become a vicious cycle, with the body’s blood sugar and insulin levels going up and down rapidly and can result to insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance has been associated with lower survival rates in both breast and colon cancer. This data supports the use of a low glycemic, nutrient dense diet in people diagnosed with both breast and colon cancer.
Adopting a low-fat, plant-based diet is great for overall health and prevention of many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Please note that like most things, you will want to find the dietary program that works best for you. Not every treatment program works the same way for everyone, and consultation with your Naturopathic Doctor will be needed.