The news of a cancer diagnosis is an extremely difficult time for both patients and their families. It can bring about many psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical challenges for those being treated for and living with and beyond their cancer.
It is understandable therefore that many will try to help fight cancer or alleviate treatment side effects through changing their diet. However, if you, a relative or friend are planning this, it is important to know if you are making the right or wrong changes.
The following information summarises some of the main diets that you may come across. It describes the common myth and the facts relating to that diet that evidence has shown to date.
Myth: Hormones used in the production of milk promote hormone related cancerous tumour growth.
Myth: Isoflavones, found in soy products have a similar chemical structure to the hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen can stimulate some cancers, therefore it was thought foods containing isoflavones might have the same effect.
Myth: An acidic environment promotes ill health whereas an alkaline environment is beneficial and promotes good health. It is claimed that the food you eat can affect the body’s pH and that as our blood is naturally alkaline (~pH 7.4) eating acid foods upsets the balance.
Myth: Sugar feeds cancer cells.
Myth: The ketogenic diet decreases tumour size and spread.
Myth: Fasting can improve effect and symptoms of chemotherapy.
Myth: Complementary alternative medicines can increase survival and reduce recurrence, optimise treatment, alleviate side effects and boost immune system.
Myth: Taking turmeric supplements prevents and treats cancer.
Myth: Probiotics help your gut become healthy to fight cancer.
There are many different types of diets circulating around the media; these top tips below can help you find out if the diet is credible or a myth:
If you remain unsure seek advice from a dietitian.
Some of these diets can have a detrimental impact on your health and wellbeing. For example:
It is essential to tell your cancer doctor, GP, key worker or dietitian whether you are following a certain diet to enable them help understand and discuss any potential side effects.
Understanding why someone would choose an alternative or complementary diet is important. It helps by opening a conversation and understanding their point of view.
There may be many reasons why someone would choose an alternative or complementary diet including belief in diet, managing cancer complications or reduce side effects of conventional therapy, control, family tradition/ culture or fear of cancer returning.
Consider the following when trying to support a friend or relative:
Choosing an alternative or complementary diet can impact on someone’s health, therefore it is important to research thoroughly by choosing accurate, good quality evidence and speaking to health professionals. Being open and honest helps with understanding different points of view and opens up conversations between relatives, friends and health professionals.
The following are useful sources of further information. If you feel you would like individual dietary advice, please request a referral to your local or specialist cancer dietitian.