Cancer-Combative Nutrition, Part 2

Extreme Nutrition: Can It Beat Cancer?

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


November 20, 2013

In This Article

Editor's Note:
In this 2-part series, Medscape looks at diet as an essential therapeutic strategy for cancer patients. Part 1 focuses on the nutritional assessment of cancer patients, foods that help patients cope with side effects, and ways to make fortifying foods more appealing to the cancer-dulled appetite. Part 2 looks at extreme nutrition and the growing interest in fighting cancer with food.

Speaking to Medscape on these topics are 2 high-profile cancer nutrition and food experts. Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, is a dietician; author; speaker; and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, health, and cancer. Rebecca Katz, MS, is a chef, nutritionist, national speaker, and award-winning author whose books include One Bite at a Time, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, and The Longevity Kitchen.

Fighting Cancer With Food -- and Attitude

Evidence that diet can prevent cancer or the recurrence of cancer is mounting. In the Women's Intervention Nutrition Study (WINS), involving breast cancer patients who were on curative therapy, a low-fat diet was associated with reduced risk for cancer recurrence, particularly in those with estrogen-receptor negative cancers.[1] "This is an important study," comments Suzanne Dixon, "because women with estrogen-receptor negative cancer have fewer treatment options. The low-fat diet had a profound effect on recurrence in this group."

In the Women's Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) study, however, an intense plant-based diet high in fruits and vegetables did not appear to improve survival, but did reduce recurrence when combined with moderate, regular exercise.[2] Still, women with breast cancer often struggle to shed excess weight. "Even if you don't buy into a dietary effect on survival or recurrence, these are still healthier diets," remarks Dixon. "Getting cancer isn't a 'get out of jail free card' for heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes and other chronic diseases."

In The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen,[3] Rebecca Katz spends little time talking about what foods patients should avoid. "My philosophy is that people hear enough about what they shouldn't eat. They hear a lot of don'ts. The book is an invitation to shift that thinking." Katz views the book and its recipes as something that patients and family members can do to combat cancer, at a time when helplessness is a common feeling.

Along with maintaining a healthy attitude, avoiding illness and infection, and exercising regularly, research shows that what cancer patients eat can influence cancer progression, recurrence risk, and survival.[4] Foods have many cancer-fighting properties, including anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and proimmune system effects. The right foods can stimulate appetite, aid in digestion, and relieve gastrointestinal side effects, all of which are important in preventing involuntary weight loss.

Food is a key part of a risk-reduction strategy for cancer, says Katz. In The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, she provides an important tool for incorporating cancer-fighting foods into the diet. The chapter "The Culinary Pharmacy" is an A-to-Z resource detailing the evidence-based cancer-fighting properties of foods, herbs, and spices. These compounds are the foundation of the book's recipes, which, by combining many of the cancer-fighting foods, increase the chances of yielding benefit.

Katz emphasizes whole foods in her recipes for cancer patients. "Whole foods provide the most nutrient density," explains Katz. "When patients are going through cancer, every bite counts. From day to day, they don't know how much they will be able to eat. Whole/organic foods provide the most bang for their buck. Furthermore, organic foods usually contain fewer toxins, so for the patient who is exposed to the toxic effects of chemotherapy, organic foods don't add to this burden." Although organic might be optimal, eating conventional produce is preferable to eating no produce at all. This important message should be conveyed to patients who may not have access to organic foods, or who may not be able to afford them.


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