Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN
A cancer diagnosis is probably just about the scariest news anyone could ever receive in their life. It can also be very confusing. There’s tons of information to weed through and it’s very easy to become overwhelmed, scared, and discouraged.
As such, here’s an attempt to simplify the basics of a critical component for anyone following a cancer diagnosis — your nutrition.
A healthy, nutritious diet is really important when you’re being treated for cancer. It can make a big impact on the outcome of your treatments and your quality of life. So, it’s essential that you take your diet very seriously during this time.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, we really hope this helps to take some of the guesswork out of the equation.
Eat Fresh VegetablesAccording to research, eating fruits and vegetables could lower one’s overall risk of dying from cancer.1 So, they should form the foundation of your diet. In particular, pay extra attention to cruciferous vegetables (e.g. kale, broccoli, radishes, and cauliflower). They’re notable for their anti-cancer properties.
Specific compounds in cruciferous vegetables have been shown to kill ovarian, prostate, lung, and breast cancer cells in culture.2-5 In one study, eating broccoli was associated with an increased rate of survival in bladder cancer patients.6
Avoid SugarAvoid refined carbohydrates, sweets, and foods with added sweeteners. They contain simple carbohydrates which are quickly broken down into sugar.
Cancer cells thrive on sugar, and insulin (a glucose-transporter) is a growth factor for many tumors.7 In animal studies, low carb diets have been associated with slowed tumor growth.8
Be careful with juicing. It’s a great way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, but it can also be a source of excess sugar (if you’re juicing fruits). Eat whole fruits instead.
Cut Back on Inflammatory FoodsCancer is inflammatory in nature. In fact, it’s believed that 95% of cancers involve nuclear factor-kappa B, a key orchestrator of inflammation. 9
Cut back on animal products (meat, chicken, and dairy). They’re a source of omega-6 fatty acids and saturated fats. In the body, they’re processed and converted into 5-LOX, an inflammatory enzyme linked to cancer development and proliferation.10
Eat anti-inflammatory foods instead. Flax seeds, chia seeds, tart cherries, olives, soy, seaweed, dark fruits, berries, cold water fish, green tea, ginger, and nuts are just to name a few. And let’s not forget, omega-3s which help to ease inflammation.
Eat Immune Boosting FoodsIncorporate immune boosting foods into your diet. These include garlic, onions, ginger, green tea, yogurt, oats, barley, and mushrooms.
Maitake and shiitake mushrooms, for example, contain beta glucans and other polysaccharides with immune stimulating properties. These natural compounds activate key players in the immune system to prevent the proliferation and spread of cancer cells.11
Add Turmeric to Your DishesAdd turmeric to your dishes. Not only does it add color, it adds nutritional value as well. Its key ingredient, curcumin, has been shown to fight cancer in a number of studies.12
Clinical trials are in the early stages, but so far compelling results have been seen for cancers of the breast, uterus, cervix, prostate, and GI tract.
Take Your SupplementsA variety of supplements may help during cancer treatments. For example, higher vitamin D levels have been associated with higher rates of survival among colorectal cancer patients.13
However, since supplementation can be tricky for cancer patients, it’s best to receive personalized suggestions before starting a new program. And just in case you didn't already know, we have a team of oncology health advisors on staff that can help with just that.
If you’d like some guidance, consider giving them a call at 1-800-226-2370 (yes, it's free)!
- Am J Epidemiol. 2004 Dec 15;160(12):1223-33.
- Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2007 Oct;86(10):1263-8.
- PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47186.
- J Nat Prod. 2008 Nov;71(11):1911-4.
- Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2004 Sep;229(8):835-42.
- Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2010 Jul;19(7):1806-11.
- Integr Cancer Ther. 2003 Dec;2(4):315-29.
- Prostate. 2013 Apr;73(5):449-54.
- Mol Cell Biochem. 2010 Mar;336(1-2):25-37.
- Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2007 Dec;26(3-4):503-24.
- Int Immunopharmacol. 2007 Jun;7(6):701-24.
- Front Biosci (Schol Ed). 2012 Jan 1;4:335-55.
- Br J Cancer. 2009 Sep 15;101(6):916-23.