Cancer prevention and care: how nutrition can help
01 December 2017
If you’ve recently had a cancer diagnosis, you may have been offered powerful medical treatments, such as surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and/or hormone-altering medications. Yet only a minority of patients will be lucky enough to receive nutrition advice to complement the medical plan.
While nutrition interventions cannot kill cancer cells (that’s the role of the medical treatment), getting onto the right nutrition plan can make a huge difference to your quality of life both during and after your medical therapy.
A nutrition plan that is targeted to your individual needs can:
- Help to minimise the side effects of the necessary medical treatments. Common side-effects include digestive problems, bowel disturbance, fatigue, low mood, loss of appetite, unwanted weight loss, frequent infections, skin problems
- Help to keep your white and red blood cell counts at healthy levels, minimising the chances of your scheduled chemotherapy sessions having to be delayed
- Help restore your strength, your energy levels and your resilience after your treatment is finished
- Help to identify factors that may have contributed to your ill-health, in order to help reduce the chances of recurrence in future years.
Alternatively, perhaps you’re not a cancer patient, but you are concerned about your risk of developing the disease. If so, nutrition has an important role to play in helping to reduce this risk.
Overwhelmingly, the evidence points to a reduced risk of cancer with diets that place an emphasis on plant foods like fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, seaweeds, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses. Here are some key things to consider:
- Cancer cells need sugar to keep them alive. So the lower your diet is in sugar, the less likely cancer cells will flourish. This means reducing not only the obvious cakes, biscuits and sweets, but also the less apparent culprits, like white starch (white pasta, rice and bread) and fruit juice.
- The type of fat you eat affects your risk of cancer. Fats from processed foods (trans- and hydrogenated fats) can increase cancer risk, whereas natural fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish, may help to reduce risk.
- Getting enough good quality protein is crucial because it’s so vital for the immune system to work well. (Protein can also help to prevent the loss of healthy muscle mass, which can sometimes occur with longer term medical treatment programmes.)
- Meat and fish that has been smoked or cured can increase your risk of cancer. This includes bacon, sausages, ham and smoked salmon and mackerel.
- Alcohol is converted in the liver to a highly carcinogenic compound called acetaldehyde. So, while alcohol in moderation may be heart-healthy for some people, it is best avoided if you have an increased risk of cancer.
- The way you cook your foods affects your cancer risk. When proteins and starches are heated to high temperatures they produce cancer-causing chemicals. So when you’re eating meat, fish or poultry, it is best to poach, slow-roast them or use a slow cooker, rather than grill, fry or barbecue.
- Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidant molecules that help to safeguard healthy cells from damage that can lead to cancer. Eat 8 portions of vegetables and 2 fruits every day. You can make this easier by including veggies in smoothies and soups. The more different coloured plant foods you eat on a daily basis, the wider your range of antioxidants.
- Some foods are especially good at helping the liver to process toxins before they have a chance to become carcinogenic. These include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, watercress, rocket, onions, garlic, green tea and the turmeric spice.
- Green leafy vegetables and lean animal protein (like fish and lean meat) contain molecules like B vitamins that support a biochemical process known as methylation. Healthy methylation is crucial to minimise cancer risk.
- Dietary fibre from wholegrains, beans, pulses and vegetables, can help to eliminate toxins and excess hormones that can promote the growth of cancer cells. Fibre also increases a chemical in the gut called butyrate that helps to protect the digestive tract from damage that can lead to cancer.
- Flavonoids from soy foods and carotenoids from orange, red and dark green vegetables have been found to help damaged cells recover and regain health before they get the chance to turn into cancer cells
- Phytochemicals found in soy foods, berries and tea may help to strengthen the body’s defences against cancer spreading (‘metastasising’) to other tissues and organs
- Most of these nutrition interventions also reduce chronic inflammation in the body, which is a contributor to many types of cancer.
These are just some of the ways that nutrition can play an important part in reducing your risk of chronic illnesses like cancer.
(Practical ideas for implementing these points can be found in my books, available here (http://www.lorrainenicollenutrition.co.uk/books-nutrition.php) and through most booksellers.)
The power of a personalised plan
Your uniquely particular state of health is the direct result of the interactions between your genetic inheritance and the factors in your environment, including diet. When it comes to the most effective nutrition plan for you, it’s important to remember that foods that are good for one person may not be good for another. Most chronic diseases occur because of years, if not decades, of malfunctioning in one or more body systems. Practitioners of Personalised Nutrition work to identify and support the body systems that are malfunctioning and may therefore have contributed to your current health issues.
The result is that you are given a personalised nutrition plan to meet your particular needs, rather than simply a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
The types of body processes that can be analysed for potential imbalances include:
- The digestion and absorption of food and nutrients
- The processing of toxins by the liver
- The control of blood sugar levels
- The regulation of hormones, such as sex hormones, adrenals and thyroid
- Immune and inflammatory processes
- The metabolism of nutrients to produce energy
- The creation and accumulation of oxidative stress
- The regulation of brain chemicals.
If you’d like to book in for a personalised nutrition consultation to see how your current diet and lifestyle may affecting your risk of developing cancer and other chronic illnesses, please go to the menu bar at the top left of the page and click on the ‘121 Consultations’ tab.
Wishing you the best of health…