Nutrition versus Specific Nutrition: Best foods during cancer treatment
By Dr. Lisa A. Price, ND
Right before I entered high school, my father’s job was reassigned to Alaska. Our family moved from Washington, DC to Anchorage that summer. I remember being excited about the new terrain, endless winters, skiing, snow shoeing and snow machining. I’d never done these things before but assumed that that’s what my soon-to- be peers did every weekend in Alaska. I wasn’t too far off.
The winter of my sophomore year I was invited up to Alyeska Ski Resort, a beautiful and popular destination not too far away from Anchorage. I’d rented skies from REI, used my puffy parka (baby blue with two bold stripes of green and red at chest level) and purchased some snow pants. Starting on the bunny hill, I was instructed by my high school friends who were more experienced. I did great. But who doesn’t do great on the bunny hill?
I graduated to the most easy, yet longer, bigger slope. I did great and started feeling my oats and wondering if a. I was just a natural or b. skiing just wasn’t that hard. I made it up to Alyeska about four more times that winter and by that time I’d skied on a moderate slope and enjoyed myself each time. I saw my Olympics dreams coming true, imagine the back story, I daydreamed as I snow plowed down the hill, avoiding the moguls. This was easy. I didn’t need to take classes, or know anything about technique. I was just a natural.
And then there was Larry L. A high school friend who either thought I should have some humility or really thought I could handle one of the most difficult slopes at Alyeska. He wanted me to take a run with him (a very experienced skier). Why not? What could go wrong? I was a natural right?
Did I mention that I have a fear of heights? A paralyzing fear of heights?
The chair lift for this slope went to new heights. Literally. The other lifts were at a distance from the ground, that I felt comfortable in jumping to if need be. Larry and I hung high above the snow, breathing the cold, thin air. I remember feeling slightly nauseated. I focused on the chair in front of us.
At some point I turned to Larry to point out a shear rock face and skiers at the top. “They are crazy! They’re so close to the edge.” I said.
“That’s where we’re going.” Larry replied.
When we slipped out of the chair lift after what seemed to be an hour (it wasn’t it just seemed to be) I was determined to get down off that slope as fast as I could.
There were trees, and turns and twists; skiers flying by, and the portion of the trail along the rock face. I was hesitant. My agility and confidence weren’t showing up so much. Larry grew impatient and went ahead, down the slope. He was enjoying himself. Me? I snow plowed almost every inch of it, and nearly did something that looked like a chicken-sloughed march near that rock face. By the time I got down to the lodge, I was frozen, angry and defeated. My Olympic dreams were over.
So what does this have to do with nutrition and specific nutrition during cancer treatment? Supplying guidance on general nutrition during cancer treatment is fairly easy, however supplying specific nutrition guidance is more technical and requires a scientific understanding of how each therapy works. What I provide my cancer patients is technical, and individual. Let me explain my process which makes it so.
In general, there are four categories of therapies a cancer patient might be treated with: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or hormone blocking therapies (there are others including immunotherapy and biologics but for now let’s talk about these since they are the most standard). Each of categories has a specific macro and micro nutrient need that they can create, as well as expected side effects. General nutrition (holistic diets) can help assist, but in order to prevent or mitigate side effects a practitioner needs to know the mechanism of action of the therapy, expected side effects, and specific nutrients that are depleted as a result.
For example, chemotherapy can be generally divided by mechanism of action into four or five categories. Each category works in a different way to target cell growth. Some will target certain proteins that are essential in cell division, others work by generating free radicals which react with DNA and render it non functional; others target certain cell enzymes that aid in division, some falsely mimic nutrients needed for cells to replicate themselves.
All these therapies create different and specific nutrient demands, and deficits. Basic nutrition and the practitioners that provide this information do not take this into account. While their information is good, it can be better. It is vital to health and recovery during cancer treatment that it is better.
As an example, here’s my process. When a patient comes to me I assess their individual health and nutrition needs, which includes possible nutrient needs. This is done through a general intake which includes questions regarding diet. I then assess current or upcoming cancer treatment. Based on anticipated side effects, nutrient demands and individual health I create a plan that will include the use of foods with those nutrients, as well as recommended consistency.
I’ve found that these plans with foods, and a small host of safe supplementation works well for my patients.
Finding best foods during radiation treatment, best foods during chemotherapy and hormone treatment for each patient is powerful and effective.
And there in lies the difference, to reiterate: general holistic nutrition is great, but specific nutrition based on your individual needs during cancer treatment is better. A technical understanding of treatments by practitioner is needed to facilitate the best health for patients undergoing cancer treatment.
As for me, I stay off the slopes, and admire those who have the expertise to do it.