Friday, 13 April 2012

Diet and Cancer

What’s the best diet to eat if you have cancer? This is a question that is often touched upon by the contributors to the LMS e-mail forum that I follow and whenever this topic is raised it produces a lively discussion with many divergent opinions. There are a number of very particular diets that some people claim as beneficial to cancer patients, for instance diets that include a lot of alkaline foods, diets composed entirely of the juice of uncooked vegetables and fruit etc. Personally I’m always very keen to understand the scientific evidence that supports the value of dietary changes before I make them.

When it comes to the prevention of cancer, the evidence for the benefit of eating the right diet is compelling. Diets high in vegetables and fruit and low in animal products have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer. A concise summary on dietary advice in this area can be found on the World Cancer Research Fund website:

Dietary recommendations for people with cancer often focus on advising cancer patients how to consume enough calories to maintain their weight. This isn’t surprising as cancer and its treatment often have the effect of reducing a person’s appetite. For those with cancer who do not have a problem maintaining their weight, the general advice seems to be to eat a healthy and well balanced diet similar to that recommended for preventing the disease. Cancer and cancer treatment put a lot of demands on the body so it makes sense to eat a diet that ensures the body has access to all the vitamins and minerals that it needs to stay as healthy as possible. For me this means eating a wide range of fruit and vegetables and eating less red meat than I used to.

There are also a small number of more specific changes that I’ve made to my diet that have been inspired by cancer related research, these include:
  • Drinking green tea. Green tea has been shown to have preventative value against some forms of cancer. I have a genetic profile that means that my body metabolises the active anti-cancer ingredients in green tea more slowly than most other people. This means that the active ingredients stay in my system longer and this has been shown to enhance their effect. Other research suggests that green tea can slow the rate of development of prostate cancer. I’m not aware of any scientific evidence for the anti-cancer effect of green tea in LMS, but as drinking moderate amounts seems to be a harmless activity I’m giving it a go.
  • Reducing my intake of oily fish. A recently published study showed that some of the oils found in fish can interfere with the operation of certain chemotherapy drugs. On this basis I’ve decided to eat significantly less oily fish whilst on chemotherapy.
  • Eating low GI foods. This change to my diet is inspired by the book “Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life”. The author, David Servan-Schreiber, a medical doctor and professor of psychiatry, extensively researched the topic of diet and cancer after himself being diagnosed with brain cancer. There is evidence that a sugar rush can stimulate the growth of tumours and eating low GI food robs them of this boost.
  • Eating mushrooms to boost my immune system. This is another idea taken from the book mentioned in the previous point. There is evidence that shows that mushrooms, particularly Japanese and far eastern varieties, can stimulate the immune system and give an anti-cancer effect.

Regardless of whether these dietary changes actually have a physical benefit, I’ve found that they definitely have a positive mental value. My diet is one of the few things that I can control that could have a beneficial effect on the course of my illness and so by adjusting my diet I get a feeling of doing something positive to actively improve my situation. I’m very lucky that Katie is a sensational cook, she has integrated these changes into our diet and has found some sensational new recipes that are a joy to eat.
Whilst we try and follow these dietary guidelines we sometimes like to treat ourselves to something that breaks the rules, especially if we think we might benefit from some ‘comfort food’. We have a table booked at our favourite steak restaurant for next Thursday night. It’s the day we get the result of the CT scan that I had on Tuesday so we’ll be celebrating or commiserating, either way I know I’ll still enjoy my steak and chips!

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