Friday, 5 July 2013

Diet and cancer, an update

One aspect of my treatment that has surprised me has been the lack of any detailed advice from my doctors regarding what I should or should not be eating. The only advice I've had is that I should eat a balanced diet. This seems a little odd considering the significant volume of information in the press and on the radio, TV and internet related to how one food or another might be good or bad for people with cancer or for those on chemotherapy.

Trying to make sense of the information in the media is not straightforward. For example, back in 2011 a Dutch team from the University Medical Centre in Utrecht published a paper that suggested that some types of fish oil could inhibit the function of some chemotherapy agents. It was reported that the specific oils involved can be found in fish oil supplements containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The leader of the research group, Professor Emile Voest, was quoted by the Daily Telegraph saying "These substances can be found in some types of fish oil. Whilst waiting for the results of further research, we currently recommend that these products should not be used whilst people are undergoing chemotherapy".
Since reading about this research I've tried to limit my intake of oily fish during the week when I receive my chemotherapy, however I recently read an article that highlights new research that shows that specific fish oils can boost the effectiveness of some chemotherapy agents.
This research is good news, however I think it also illustrates the real difficulties facing cancer patients when it comes to making decisions about diet. Most scientific research papers are difficult to understand even for the well informed so it can be difficult to know what to conclude from them. This uncertainty can be increased when other research appears to reach a contradictory conclusion. 
Given these difficulties and in the absence of specific advice from my doctors, I prefer to focus on eating a healthy diet containing a wide range of fruit and vegetables. I don't take any dietary supplements as it is difficult to work out which might be beneficial and which harmful or simply neutral. I'm sure that in the future there will be much more detailed dietary advice provided to cancer patients taking into account the specifics of both their disease and their treatment, however I don't see this happening for some years to come.
For those wanting more information on the research mentioned above the abstracts of the reports are available at the links below:
I've been taking advantage of the good weather to photograph some of the wildlife in our garden. This is an aptly named 'Beautiful Demoiselle', we also get large red damselflies but they are not as handsome as this character: 


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