The importance of diet is something that rarely receives the attention it deserves with respect to cancer treatment. We know that a SAD diet (read: Standard American Diet) can be a risk factor for cancer, just as we know that eating a healthy well-balanced diet can help to prevent cancer. As a reminder, it is estimated that over 80% of cancers are preventable.
Furthermore, it is now known that “specific diets” can help fight cancer once it has been diagnosed. Using cancer as a weapon against cancer makes sense because cancer cells utilize a different type of energy production than normal cells. Because of this a cancer fighting diet can be used which robs cancer of energy while still supporting healthy non-cancerous cells. If cancer cells lack sufficient energy they become more sensitive to the effects of treatments. Nearly everyone who has ever researched cancer treatments has surely heard that cancer loves sugar.
There is truth to this, as sugar has been established as one of the primary energy substrates for cancer cells. However, cancer’s love of sugar may extend beyond energy. Newer research is finding that cancer cells may use sugar to resist the effects of treatments that work by promoting oxidation (by creating free radicals such as with chemo, radiation, and Vitamin C IV’s in cancer cells. It seems that cancer cells may use sugar to create large amounts of antioxidants, which can negate effect of the treatment-induced oxidation.
Far too often I meet patients who are advised to “eat whatever you want” during cancer treatment. With the current far-from-optimal treatment success rate that cancer currently has, it would make more sense for physicians to use any and all resources they have to help their patients. This includes educating patients about the potential benefits that diet can impart. Advising patients to “eat whatever” isn’t good advice in fact this advice is likely working against the patient.
So it was great to learn of a new piece of diet-related research being presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology’s annual conference this year. This research looked at 826 patients with stage III colon cancer. The study compared outcomes between patients who consumed two ounces or more of nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pecans) per week and those who did not consume nuts. The findings are impressive: those who consumed at least two ounces per week had a 42% lower chance of cancer recurrence and 57% lower cancer death compared to those who didn’t consume nuts.
Commentary on the study included a statement which read “nut consumption and a healthy diet are generally factors that clinicians and patients should perhaps pay attention to.” Perhaps? The fact is, to not discuss the potential benefits of diet with people fighting cancer is, well, nuts.
Anyone who is fighting cancer would be well advised to seek the help of a physician well-versed in the use of diet during cancer treatment. Doing so could improve treatments and help to prevent recurrence.
Article contributed by Dr. Jonathan Psenka