Most of my patients are scared of the “C” word…yes, that’s “C” for cancer. Let’s face it, we all are to some degree. But when you have family history of various cancers, the fear becomes a reality on a day to day with fear and apprehension as to when the big “C” might occur.
For these patients, they are right to want to do everything possible to try to lower the risk of cancer. These patients will come in to see me with a bevy of questions from things they have read on the internet and they want to tease out what is a gimmick and what is real. So, for this article, I would like to help tease out what we actually know clinically about cancer prevention so as to help guide all of you readers out there who have the same fears.
When it comes to evidence-based integrative medicine for cancer therapy and prevention, in general, we are lacking in confirmatory clinical studies for many supplements that patients like to use. However, there is some information available about some diets and supplements…and we will touch on those in this article.
When it comes to those who have cancer and is being actively treated with radiation therapy or chemotherapy, the general recommendation is to avoid supplements and vitamins during ongoing therapy. There just is not enough clinical evidence as to what may benefit and what may impede the therapeutic process of chemotherapy and radiation.
There is concern that certain supplements and vitamins may work in a way that counteracts the benefits of radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Therefore, I recommend that my patients stop their vitamins during active ongoing therapy. However, during the active treatment period, you can use food as medicine to help augment therapy and ensure that you are not working against the treatments. So, I usually encourage my patients to eat a well-balanced highly anti-inflammatory diet to get their nutrients safely and effectively without adversely affecting their treatment regimen.
Once the ongoing treatments are done, patients are encouraged to continue with a highly anti-inflammatory mostly-plant based diet with lean organic hormone-free protein such as wild fish or organic chicken or turkey in order to help them heal. If there is a lot of radiation-associated gastroenterological symptoms, I recommend my patients to blend their vegetables into a vegetable soup so that it is easier to swallow and digest. Red meat and meats that are cooked at high temperatures and charred should be avoided since there is concern that they are more carcinogenic.
Sometimes, if the patient has lost significant weight and they need to keep up their body weight and health, some oncologists will just have patients eat whatever they want to get their weight up. I am not a fan of that recommendation since junk food, if that’s what the patient wants, is not going to provide enough nutrients into the person’s body that is healing from the trauma of chemotherapy, radiation, and cancer. I will usually recommend ways to make healthy foods palatable including drizzling dark chocolate on berries or blending vegetables and fruits together for smoothies with organic protein powder or ground nuts for protein.
If you are caring for someone in this position, the main points to keep in mind is to keep food soft and easily digestible and palatable but make sure the foundation of the food is nutritious for a healing body. You can use hearty amounts of olive oil as a healthy fat in cooking meals or soups and can use vitamin-enriched whole grains in meals…but the key point is to keep in mind that the healing body needs nutrients and it’s not just the weight that you want to regain, but the body needs to regain those nutrients as well to heal. By using larger quantities of nutrients such as healthy fats that we find in things like olive oil, nuts, fish, and avocado, you can increase the caloric count while still ensuring that you are getting plenty of healthy nutrients into the healing body.
Another important point is to make sure that the patient gets plenty of fluids into the healing body because water is necessary for cellular repair and healing. Healthy liquids like dairy, water, and antioxidant-rich drinks such as green tea should be an integral part of the healing body diet. Water is necessary for many cellular functions and so is an important part of the healing regimen.
Lastly, there are various supplements that have been seen to have some anti-cancer properties. One of the most important ones that I use over and over in my clinic is curcumin with black pepper. The black pepper increases systemic absorption significantly so make sure that the version you get has black pepper as part of the active ingredient.
I also like to utilize foods or supplements rich in pectin and indole-3-carbinol for my patients because these are beneficial for cancer patients as well. Pectin can be found in the white casing material around oranges and indole-3-carbinol is abundant in cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and brussel sprouts.
Finally, vitamin D should be adequately replaced in people with cancer because vitamin D is a hormone in the body and studies show that those who are deficient are potentially at higher risk for cancer and when cancer occurs, there’s a chance that it may be more aggressive in staging. So, make sure your doctor is checking your vitamin D levels and don’t be fine with just a low normal level of vitamin D…shoot for mid-level numbers and make sure that you take enough vitamin D3 to keep you at that middle of the normal range D level.
So as you can see, there are very do-able ways to incorporate an anti-cancer regimen into your daily life if you know what to focus on. If I can leave just one take-away point in your mind, the most important would be to eat a well-balanced highly anti-inflammatory mostly plant-based diet on a daily basis.
Using food as medicine is truly the most safe and effective way to prevent cancer and to help heal after cancer therapy. Our bodies are created in a way where it functions most optimally on this type of diet, so why not use what our body knows is good for us in a way where you can gain the positive outcome you want from your body…and by doing so, give yourself the peace of mind that you’ve done all you can to make your body as healthy as it can be, no matter what your family history is.