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Beware of the wonder diet.

I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about wonder diets promoted as effective treatments for cancer. Some advise people with cancer to cut out dairy products or meat, or to live mostly on fresh juice, or to take mega-doses of some vitamin. Very often they go hand in hand with apparently irresistible endorsements from people who found that following them appeared dramatically to improve or even cure their cancer.
To the person struggling with cancer and the sometimes grim realities of treatment – fatigue, rushed appointments, hospital travel and parking charges, and so on – it is very understandable that such diets may appeal as being delightfully out of the clinical domain. They’re something you can do for yourself and as such completely under your control, with no unpleasant drugs and side effects. But, while such diets may empower people with cancer, do they have any effect?

My own opinion, which I’m sure you’ll have guessed by now, is that such diets are at best far more trouble than they’re worth, and at worst potentially dangerous. As I said earlier in this book, now is not the time to be cutting major food groups out of your diet. To take just one simple example, some anti-cancer drugs have a bone-weakening effect – if you then give up dairy products, you run quite a risk of osteoporosis. On a more general level, very often such diets are far too restrictive, and can be not only tedious and expensive, but positively harmful, as they can result in weight loss and malnutrition.

Diet in cancer causes a great deal of confusion and perhaps nowhere more so than in this vexed area of ‘wonder diets.’ As I have stressed in this book, it is better to eat a balanced diet of the types of foods you enjoy, than to put yourself through the mill being a martyr to a horrible exclusive diet just because you hope it is somehow good for you. If you do have any queries about alternative diets, or foods that you feel disagree with you, or food intolerances or allergies, again, do discuss it with a trained health professional. Because of the nutritional risks associated with these diets and at times the extra expense involved in purchasing supplements or ‘special’ drinks you should discuss an interest in such approaches with your doctor or specialist before you hand over your credit card.

Probably more important than fad diets are the nutritional guidelines that have already been set up by years of rigorous research and thousands and thousands of well-accredited studies. In another post I have explained the recommendations for Diet and cancer preverntion.

While we know that diet is a factor in around 30% of cancers, making diet second only to smoking as the most preventable cause of cancer (source World Cancer Research). The strongest links to some of the leading types of cancer are a higher than ideal body weight, activity, alcohol and intake of plant based foods such as grains, fruits and vegetables. However it is not possible to know exactly why one person ends up with cancer and others don’t. When considering dietary factors it is important to realise that, in the last issue, many cases of cancer have no obvious causal factors behind them. While it makes sense to eat as best you can, it also makes sense not to blame yourself or your previous diet for your illness.