Happy Tuesday! I’m excited to welcome Jillian McKee as my guest blogger for this week’s Talk-about-it-Tuesday. Jillian McKee is a Complementary Medicine Advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog. Active in cancer outreach, McKee shares her wealth of experience with integrative nutrition treatment and alternative medicine for complementing traditional cancer treatment.
Maintaining Proper Nutrition is Essential for Cancer Patients
Nutrition is essential for maintaining health and preventing disease but a healthy diet is particularly important for individuals diagnosed with cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), proper nutrition is vital for cancer patients to maintain body weight, healthy body tissue and strength. Adequate nutrition is also necessary to fight infection during cancer treatment, which often compromises the immune system. Quality of life is potentially improved and some cancer treatments may work more effectively when patients engage in healthy diets.
The American Cancer Society reports that eating well during cancer treatment may help patients tolerate the side effects of treatment, lower risk of infection, improve energy levels and facilitate healing and recovery. Adequate intake of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and water are all essential before, during and after cancer treatment.
Cachexia, a condition which manifests as loss of appetite, muscle and weight loss, and lower energy levels, may affect cancer patients, particularly those diagnosed with upper gastrointestinal cancer, pancreatic cancer or cancers affecting the lungs, such as mesothelioma. According to the NIH, cachexia may indicate chemical changes caused by tumors that alter the body’s interaction with certain nutrients such as protein, fat and carbohydrates. Cancers that affect the intestines and colon may also leave patients vulnerable for malnutrition due to the inability to absorb nutrients.
The American Cancer Society suggests that patients may need to alter eating habits and avoid certain foods and beverages altogether during treatment. Small meals eaten frequently throughout the day may be easier to tolerate than eating three large meals. Avoiding high-fat foods and fried foods that may be difficult to digest or increase nausea may improve weight and energy levels.
Eating small amounts of food before chemotherapy rather than attempting to ingest a full meal may help patients retain nutrients sometimes lost to vomiting during or shortly after treatment. The American Cancer Society recommends avoiding caffeinated beverages such as coffee or tea, which may exacerbate upset stomach. To avoid dehydration, sip clear liquids such as water or light unsweetened juices to ensure proper hydration.
Because eating may be difficult during treatment, it’s important that the foods consumed contain high-nutrient value. Processed foods, high in calories but void of nutrients, should be eliminated from the diet. Instead, fresh fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins, phytochemicals and antioxidants, necessary for repairing tissue, boosting the immune system and providing energy. Plant-based proteins such as legumes and animal-derived proteins such as lean meats aid in the reparation of muscle tissue.
Although patients undergoing treatment may be inclined to take vitamin supplements as a way of replacing lost nutrients, it is important to confer with the treating oncologists beforehand. The American Cancer Society warns that large doses of vitamins and supplements may actually interfere with cancer treatment. For more information on developing and maintaining a nutritional diet during cancer treatment please visit The National Cancer Institute.
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