Tag Archive for Nutrition

Tips every new cancer survivor should know

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In celebration of Living Proof week, Insight honors cancer survivors with daily posts about survivorship. 

When I was discharged from the hospital in 1996 after undergoing a stem cell transplant to treat leukemia, I was terrified. Yes, I’d survived cancer treatment, but now I had to deal with something even scarier: the unknown.

If you’ve recently ended active treatment and are entering the world of survivorship, here are some tips to keep in mind.

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Do friends, family affect your health?

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In low-income, minority communities, tight-knit social connections can lead people to eat right and be physically active — but they can also sometimes be an obstacle to a healthy lifestyle, according to new research by investigators at Dana-Farber and the Harvard School of Public Health.

The findings present a mixed picture of the benefits and potential downsides of social ties as they relate to a healthy lifestyle.

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Does sugar feed cancer?

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Cancer cells have a voracious appetite for glucose, a form of sugar, and consume it in much greater amounts than normal cells do. The knowledge of cancer cells’ zest for sugar has led some people to wonder if eating less sugar would restrain tumors’ growth.

While cancer cells do rely on a large intake of glucose to fuel their growth and proliferation, reducing sugar in your diet won’t curb tumors. Read more

The benefits of vitamin D

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Activated by sunlight and present in some foods and supplements, vitamin D has been associated with healthy bones and reducing the risk of diabetes and cancer.

But a new study says that the recommended dose of vitamin D needed to reap these health benefits remains unclear. To help shed some light on the topic, we talked to Dana-Farber’s Kimmie Ng, MD, MPH, who has been studying the connection between cancer and vitamin D use, as well as other lifestyle factors.

What is the connection between cancer and vitamin D?

There is a large amount of scientific and observational data that links higher blood levels of vitamin D with a decreased risk of developing cancer, including colorectal cancer and breast cancer. It has also been found to improve cancer survival.

How do I know if I’m getting enough vitamin D?

Physicians can use a blood test, called a 25-hydroxy vitamin D test, to measure how much of the nutrient is in the body. While many consider a vitamin D level of around 30 ng/ml or higher sufficient, we’ve found that the protective effects come from 35-40 ng/ml.

What is the recommended vitamin D dose for an adult?

The Institute of Medicine recommends between 600 – 800 IU. We don’t know what the optimal doses of vitamin D are for cancer prevention and treatment, although we suspect that they’re much higher than this recommendation. It is important to ask your doctor about how much vitamin D is best for you.

Is it better to get vitamin D from a pill or other sources?

Supplements are the best way to take vitamin D. Diet accounts for only 20 percent of vitamin D. A glass of fortified milk, for example, only contains 100 IU of vitamin D and isn’t enough to raise your blood levels. And while spending 10 minutes in the sun without sunblock provides 20,000 IU of vitamin D, there are other health risks to consider, like skin cancer.

Learn more about cancer and vitamin D deficiency.

Are there any vitamin D and cancer clinical trials?

We hope to begin enrolling metastatic colorectal cancer patients in early 2012 for a clinical trial evaluating the effectiveness of high doses of vitamin D in combination with chemotherapy. We will be comparing the differences between a standard dose of 400 IU of vitamin D3 with chemotherapy, versus a higher dose of 8,000 IU of vitamin D3 for two weeks, followed by a maintenance dose of 4,000 IU vitamin D3 with chemotherapy.

 

What are the best vitamins for cancer patients?

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Vitamins and cancer

Walk down the vitamins and supplements aisle of a pharmacy or grocery store, and you’ll see a mind-boggling array of options. It can be hard to know which one is best. And if you’re a cancer patient looking for the right dietary supplement, there are even more issues to take into account. How do you know what’s the best – and safest – choice?

Whether you are a cancer patient or survivor, these tips can help you avoid unforeseen side-effects:

  •  Tell your doctor which vitamins you are taking. Studies have shown that some supplements can decrease the effectiveness of cancer treatment. St. John’s Wort, sometimes used for depression, has been shown to lower the effects of chemotherapy by more than half, while vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, beta carotene, and other anti-oxidants might have similar effects on radiation and chemotherapy. Do you have a question about a particular vitamin? Ask our nutritionist, or check out our questions and answers section.
  • Read the package carefully. Vitamins and supplements bearing the label “USP” (United States Pharmacopoeia) or “NSF” (National Science Foundation) have been vetted by independent, quality control groups recognized by the U.S. government and are generally safer than those without the label.
  • “An apple a day” is still the best advice. Eating a balanced diet is still the best and safest way to ensure that your nutritional needs are met. Recently, a number of studies on supplements have been stopped because of concerning side effects. For example, a small preliminary study found that while selenium reduced the risk of ovarian cancer in women who eat foods rich in this anti-oxidant mineral, women who took selenium supplements, and other anti-oxidant vitamins, actually increased their risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Dietary supplements can be helpful in some cases. Vitamin D is well known for helping the body control calcium and phosphate levels and maintain healthy bones. Because food isn’t a great source of vitamin D (you’d need about 10 glasses of fortified milk to get 1,000 IUs) and too much sun exposure can damage skin, we recommend taking vitamin D supplements. Learn more about vitamin D.

If you’re going through cancer treatment, you may have special dietary restrictions, or you may need help managing side effects that make eating a challenge. Find out more about meal planning for cancer patients and survivors. Or, talk to a nutritionist or registered dietitian to explore options for healthy eating. Learn about Nutrition Services at Dana-Farber.

By Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN. Kennedy is a senior clinical nutritionist for Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and a Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition.