A lot of patients ask me what to eat while they’re on chemo, and I never feel like I have enough time give them a complete answer.
Chemotherapy, by definition, kills cells that divide rapidly, which includes all the cells lining the digestive tract, making patients sensitive to certain foods. The cancer experience in general is very individual, and no two people will go through the same thing, but as a general rule, I recommend that patients avoid foods that are acidic, greasy, or spicy. If nausea is a big problem, bland foods like plain oatmeal and bananas are safest. That’s right, no more Panda Express!
Every chemo affects the body slightly differently, and therefore different regimens call for slightly different diets (i.e. some require avoiding caffeine, others don’t). My friend, Carolyn Katzin, a Certified Nutrition Specialist, has been helping cancer patients develop personalized nutrition plans for more than 25 years. She’s also written a book that includes a list of all the chemotherapies, and what to eat and what to avoid for each drug. You can check it out here on Amazon.
When I asked my favorite cancer patient of all (my mom) how her food tolerance has been, she says it varies. Bland foods are definitely safer, but one day she will be able to drink a fruit smoothie, and the next day that same smoothie will send her running to the bathroom with immediate diarrhea. (Isn’t she sweet for allowing me to share that with you?)
What about no food at all? I know, I know, not exactly a popular idea.
There is evidence that fasting before chemo may reduce its toxicity. Based on the research of gerontologist Valter Longo, Ph.D, director of the Longevity Institute and professor of gerontology and biological sciences at the USC Davis School of Gerontology, fasting causes normal cells to enter a hibernation state, while cancer cells do not. “The cancer cell tries to compensate for the lack of all these things missing in the blood after fasting,” Longo says. “It may be trying to replace them, but it can’t.” This makes the cancer cells more vulnerable to the following chemotherapy.
A clinical trial is currently being conducted at the USC Norris Cancer Hospital based on Longo’s research. By the end of the study researchers hope to determine the safety and effectiveness of fasting before chemo, and if it really does reduce side effects like nausea. According to USC Norris Cancer Report in the fall of 2012, several of their patients have already had promising results.
But what if you’re not on chemo and you want to kill or prevent cancer? Complimentary medicine offers several “diets” that claim to do exactly that.
In the early 1900’s Dr. Max Gerson began treating cancer patients based on the principle that the body knows how to heal itself; we just have to help it eliminate toxins. He would prescribe large amounts of fresh raw juices with specific combinations of fruit and vegetables, along with coffee enemas to help your liver detoxify itself. I’ll bet you never imagined having that kind of relationship with your morning Starbucks, did you?
And then there’s the ever-so-popular juice cleanse. It provides you with an avalanche of vitamins and minerals from the array of veggies and fruits, which, along with plenty of water, is said to flush out toxins. Since it takes the average person about 18 hours to completely eliminate one meal, the idea is to juice for 3-5 days to help your body clear out all the, ah-hem… crap. If a cleanse is not compatible with your lifestyle, willpower, or medical condition (always ask a doctor before trying this kind of stuff), then adding a juice a day is an easy way to increase your veggie intake.
So whether you have cancer, or just want to prevent it, there are a million diets out there. Everything from apricot kernels to the Dr Budwig protocol, which calls for flax oil and cottage cheese, just make sure you do your research, and get more than one doctor’s opinion.
Disclaimer: I’m a chemo nurse, not a doctor. Nothing I say in my blog is intended to diagnose or treat disease. If you need help, seek professional medical attention.