Chemotherapy and plant-based diet
Diet and nutrition plays an essential role in improving the quality of life and increasing life expectancy inpatients diagnosed with cancer or undergoing chemotherapy. Healthful plant-based diet which is low in saturated fat and simple sugars and high in fruits and vegetables and unrefined whole grains, helps to meet the nutritional needs and promotes effective weight management in the patients undergoing chemotherapy.
A whole food plant-based diet is known to reduce the risk of cancer and it may also be used in the treatment of cancer. Plant-based diet helps cancer patients to cope-up with the stress of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy usually attacks the rapidly growing cells. In this process, along with the target cancer cell, fast growing healthy cells such as the hair follicle cells and the cells of the inner lining of the gastrointestinal tract (GI) are also destroyed. These drugs can severely affect the quality of life. The effect of radiation therapy is similar to that of chemotherapy, but it is usually confined to the part which is being treated. Radiation therapy to head, neck, chest and abdomen can cause significant GI distress and may also decrease tolerance to various foods.
The following list mentions the common problems after chemotherapy which has a negative influence the ability to ingest food
• Anorexia (Loss of appetite)
• Early Satiety (Feeling of fullness)
• Nausea and Vomiting
• Loss of Taste, or Taste Distortions (Dysgeusia)
• Xerostomia (Dry mouth)
• Mucositis (Sore mouth and throat)
Breast cancer patients, on chemotherapy, can benefit from adding phytate rich foods to their diet like beans, seeds, nuts, grains etc. It is also found in certain fruits and vegetables like berries and green beans. Other plant-based diet that helps to treat cancer includes sweet potatoes, strawberries, flaxseeds, seaweed, avocados, amla, soy etc. Studies have proven that curcumin which is a chemical found inturmeric boosts the immune system and helps to treat cancers of the pancreas, colon, breast, and skin.
Shiitake mushrooms are full of fiber and are therefore advised to be taken during chemotherapy. However, there are certain cases where only chemotherapy is more effective than any other alternative treatment.
After chemotherapy, the patients are immuno-compromised so they need more fresh fruits and vegetables to prevent infections; for example, oatmeal lotion helps to relieve itch and irritation caused due to cetuximab (a class of chemo drug), peppermint aromatherapy helps to treat nausea after chemotherapy.
Plant-based diet is safe and healthy for patients undergoing chemotherapy, provided they know how to make appropriate choices of food. People who are diagnosed with cancer and undergo chemotherapy have severe nutritional deficiencies and weight loss. A person with cancer have increased calorie and protein requirements to compensate for the pathological changes that has occurred due to the presence of a tumor and also due to the need to repair the healthy tissues that are damaged due to chemotherapy.
The patient can follow whole food plant-based diet to meet the nutritional requirement during chemotherapy. The oncologist and the nutritionist play an important role in building the trust of the patient for following a plant-based diet.
1. https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/chemotherapy/- Accessed on 13th Nov’17
2. Stephanie Barrera. Nutrition During and After Cancer Therapy. Oncology (Williston Park). 2009 Feb; 23(2 Suppl): 15–21.
3. Donna Paglia.Vegetarian Diets During Cancer Treatment.VegetarianJournal.Excerpts.July/August 1996 Volume XV, Number 4.