Eating well and doing your best to meet your energy (calories), protein (higher than usual) and other nutrient requirements is one of the most important contributions you can make to your health, treatments and to the quality of your life.
Recently I was called into see a lovely gentleman who informed that all he had been eating was fruit and few extra bits over the past few weeks. During this time his weight had dropped a further 10kg to 59kg. He was having trouble getting up, taking a shower and he just didn’t feel like going out or catching up with friends. He was very weak, and when I left him, he immediately fell asleep.
While some of the reasons he was having trouble with his food had to be unraveled with the medical team, the critical issue was that, as his food intake was well below ideal, he had become malnourished. His body was so rundown that getting out of bed, sitting in a chair and taking a shower, were all a challenge. Little wonder he felt so low in himself, with limited interest in getting out with friends, not to mention his frustration with having his treatments canceled because his blood showed that his body had not recovered from his last dose of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is normally worked out by a person’s weight, and if there is significant weight loss, the dose usually has to be reduced, which can affect the potency of the treatment.
We hear so much about the problems of obesity in our society, but in actual fact, it is the problems of disease-related malnutrition which cost individuals with cancer and the health system more. While awareness of disease-related malnutrition is actively promoted in the community and healthcare institutions, a much greater collaborative effort to intervene earlier is still needed. Like this gentleman, people live with low energy, experience more problems with infection and treatments delays, because their nutritional health is left to dwindle.
While no-one wants you to be uncomfortable or sick, the more you can do to eat well and embrace the type of diet that can best support you, the better your treatment outcomes are likely to be. This also means being proactive to ask for extra help sooner rather than later.
Ways nutrition helps support your treatment for cancer
- Help you cope with optimal treatment options and doses
- Recover and heal
- Maintain a healthy body size and shape
- Better manage treatment side effects
- Help reduce some risks of recurrence
- Boost immune system function and fight off infection, avoiding unnecessary setbacks and hospital stays
- Feel more energised and help cope with common problems associated with fatigue
- Ensure your body is equipped with a good store of the key nutrients such as iron, calcium, zinc, along with other vitamins and minerals
- Improve your ability to concentrate and manage daily tasks
- Help improve mood
- Emerging evidence indicates that it may help reduce recurrence risks