Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Therapeutic Role of Diet in Patients with Cancer

by Dr. Kimberley Ramberan, ND

Individuals living with cancer  or actively going through conventional cancer treatment (surgery, chemo and radiation), will often find that they have to stop their cancer treatments because their body is not able to tolerate the treatment.  An integrative naturopathic approach offers additional complementary strategies that can improve both toleration and efficacy of conventional cancer treatment and further improve survival statistics.  


Modifying your diet during active cancer treatment can often help increase the tolerance to the treatment. Diet is also an important health aspect to consider in regards to improving cancer outcomes and quality of life for individuals with cancer. Cancer is now viewed as a symptom of abnormal cellular processing and signalling rather than as a static lump of abnormal tissue. This is why dietary changes can help to normalize cellular function in order to reduce or reverse dysfunctional cell changes, which in part can yield more favourable outcomes for patients.

Optimizing diet also has the potential to enhance tolerance to conventional cancer therapies which assist patients in being able to physically complete treatment.  There is evidence that suggests patients who undergo conventional treatments without receiving nutritional support have higher complication rates.  

Diet can be used to:

1. Support optimal weight
2. Prevent weight loss during treatment
3. Support bowel regularity 
4. Reduce pain & inflammation that cause symptoms like headache, muscle and joint pain, and inflammation of mucous membranes which all happen as side effects of chemo and radiation.

Dietary Patterns

The optimal diet for each patient with cancer differs based on current health status, the type of treatment they are undergoing, blood markers, other health conditions, food sensitivities and a person's overall ability to digest what they are eating.  A naturopathic doctor will take a  look at ALL factors affecting a person's health and put together a comprehensive therapeutic diet plan that is individually tailored for desirable outcomes.  

As a start point, plant-based diets have been shown to be very important in cancer treatments.
Fruits, vegetables and certain components of plant foods, such as fiber, have significant research supporting the anti-cancer effects.

An increase in fiber has been shown to alter the enterohepatic recirculation of estrogens, leading to lower concentrations of circulating estrogens.  This is especially important for people who are at risk of developing, or who have already developed, a hormonally driven cancer, like breast, uterine or ovarian.  

Another beneficial effect of fiber shown in clinical research is its ability to decrease inflammatory markers.  One study showed that women, after being diagnosed with breast cancer and increasing their dietary intake of fiber, had a 49% decrease in likelihood of having elevated  CRP levels. This suggests an anti-inflammatory effect of fiber consumption which, in turn, improves treatment toleration and is associated with improved survival.  

In males, a dietary reduction of saturated fats and an increase in consumption of vegetables has been shown to slow PSA doubling time which reflects a decrease in cancer progression.

Colon cancer development and progression is also heavily influenced by our diet.  The SAD diet, which stands for the standard american diet, is high in red meat, refined carbohydrates, dairy and eggs.  This type of diet is associated with an increased risk for developing colorectal cancer.  In the case of colon cancer, vegetable fiber seems to be more protective than fruit or grain fiber.  


It is now estimated that 2.4%-3.9% of cancer deaths can be attributed to obesity. The role of obesity in the progression and mortality risk of several cancers, including breast, prostate, and colon , is becoming well established and supported by emerging research.  

Work with an ND to bring down your body fat percentage and address insulin resistance (which is a problem that can affect people at any weight, but affects a high incidence of those who are overweight).  Optimizing your weight, body fat percentage and insulin activity all decrease your cancer risk.

Insulin Resistance

One of the main drivers of malignant cancer cell growth is an increased expression of insulin and insulin growth factor (IGF-1). The levels of both of these hormones in the blood are largely determined by dietary patterns. Insulin and IGF-1 stimulate cellular proliferation in malignant cells. Some cancers rely exclusively on insulin and IGF-1 for their growth, including an estimated 27% of breast cancer cases.  As a consequence, patients' diets should centre around decreasing the release of insulin by decreasing dietary glycemic load.  This means keeping dietary sugars and simple carbohydrates to a minimum.   This can be done by looking at meal composition and timing, which can be determined by your naturopathic doctor based on individual needs.  Insulin levels and blood sugar levels should be monitored as a starting point and then monitored during and after treatment.

Dietary strategies vary from patient to patient,  but the overall concepts remain constant. A diet high in fiber intake, rich in whole foods and that is low in high glycemic load needs to be the foundation of a cancer-fighting approach.

For guidance and advice on the dietary strategy best suited to you, or someone you know who is dealing with cancer, contact Dr. Kimberley Ramberan, ND.  Dr. Ramberan, ND has a special focus on cancer care and her approach involves addressing the dietary, lifestyle and emotional factors. Dr. Ramberan, ND is certified in Intravenous Therapy and offers a range of complementary cancer care treatments.