Nutrition - Diets

Friday 04 May 2018


Whenever I talk to a visitor about diet and cancer I am very conscious that I do not want to give advice that will create conflict or stress. This is so important because the advice I give has got to be understood, achievable and realistic for that individual. So many books published that advocate diets and cancer have got their merits but also their down sides - much of the information can be conflicting, overwhelming and confusing and leave the reader even more confused than before.

Bite sized manageable change

It is important to remember that we live in the real world and sometimes life can get in the way of all our good intentions so I think it is important to remember this and that perfection around food is very difficult to achieve all of the time. Stress that can be created by trying to over achieve is counterproductive to even the best eating plan because stress has been shown to deplete the immune system which will undermine all the effort made. So the message is to take on board as much as you can and change your eating in bite size stages adopting what you can at the time. Also remember that cancer is a process that changes according to treatment and the side effects that may result. This can change the whole dynamics around food and that ideal way of eating may have to be put off for a while.

This sounds as if I am talking myself out of a job!! This is absolutely not the case because research shows that people who eat well cope with side effects of treatment better, recover more quickly and have more energy. Taking control of what you eat and trying to include nutritious food definitely gives people an element of control in what seems to be an out of control situation. It definitely leads to a boost in confidence and an enhanced mood which in turn boosts the immune system. The mind and body work synergistically.

So let’s look at what is around. I have met many visitors who ask me about the raw food diet, the macrobiotic diet, the Gerson diet and the Rainbow diet. All of these diets have similar aims, to give the body as much vitality as possible, to enhance the immune system and inhibit cancer growth. Converts are totally committed and would go as far as saying that the diets can be an alternative to conventional cancer treatment but that is a bit of a ‘biggy’, a very hot potato I think.  On the reverse side of the coin there are many sceptics who have no confidence in them at all. There is not a great deal of research to support their claims but let’s look at some of the basic principles of each as I do think that some elements from these diets are worthy.

The raw food diet has been around for a long time and the principle behind it is that raw foods contain enzymes that give the body vitality (some call it life force). Cooking destroys these enzymes. The focus is on fresh and dried fruits vegetables and their juices, nuts, seeds, sprouted pulses, coconut milk and seaweeds.  Nothing must be heated above 115’F(47’C) in order to preserve the integrity of the enzymes. Some studies have shown that people who follow the raw food diet had lower levels of inflammation in the body, lower levels of insulin growth like factor, lower cholesterol and body fat which are all positive results. The diet is of course also very alkaline which as we know from previous blogs is an ideal balance as there is some evidence that cancer does not thrive as well in an alkaline state. It is a diet that takes a lot of commitment and I am sure that some people’s digestive systems would not cope with a wholly raw food diet. I have visions of bloating and possible diarrhoea. I think I would miss my warm bowl of soup or my hot vegetable casserole, the comfort food.

The macrobiotic diet, the word macro means large or long and bio means life. This diet was developed in the 1920’s by a Japanese philosopher who believed that eating a simple healthy diet we could live in harmony with nature. He also believed that the diet could cure cancer and other chronic diseases, but there is no scientific evidence that I have found that proves this. The main aim of macrobiotic eating is to avoid foods that contain toxins which makes perfect sense and something we should all try and do anyway. To follow this diet properly you have to be very organised and strict about what you eat. It is made up of organic whole grains like rice, buckwheat and oats, locally grown fruits and vegetables, vegetable soups, seaweed, beans ,chickpeas, lentils fermented foods like miso and sometimes nuts and seeds. Some research shows that macrobiotic eating can improve people’s health if they follow it in moderation and not to take it to extremes. This would make some sense as an increase in fruits and vegetables and avoiding sugars and processed fats alone would do this.

The Gerson diet is one that I remember well as it was part of my study when I did my degree. This is possibly the most extreme and most expensive of all the diets mentioned I have. One research paper quoted as much as £2,500 a week!!!!!  It includes the use of very specific nutritional supplements in large quantities, regular juices up to 13 a day at very specific times , using up to 20 pounds of fruits and vegetables a day and daily coffee enemas. It aims to rid the body of toxins and strengthen the immune system. It was developed in the 1920 by a German doctor Max Gerson who believed that we had far too much sodium in our body and not enough potassium (sodium is acid forming and potassium is alkaline forming).  Available scientific evidence does not support the Gerson therapy as a cure for cancer.

Critics of these diets believe that they can lead to malnourishment as they tend to be low in calories, protein and iron. As we know that protein is necessary for recovery, it helps to maintain muscle mass, nourishes the cells of the digestive tract that can become damaged through treatment, boosts blood count, heals tissues, boosts the immune system and helps to fight infection. We also know and I have seen that treatment can easily cause a low blood count and anaemia.

Finally a look at the Rainbow diet devised by Chris Woollams. I have the book which I refer to a lot, and I must say of all the diets around, the basic principles of this is one that I think is very workable and very normal. One that I think would be of huge benefit to those people with cancer undergoing conventional treatment. I say this because it focuses on lots and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables using the rainbow of colours that nature provides, relying on their natural compounds that have been shown to have huge health benefits. He believes it increases a person’s odd of beating the disease. He also focuses on avoiding sugars, damaged fats and processed foods. There is a balance of cooked and raw food depending on how you feel. It is very flexible. He does recommend some supplements, which I am not against, but feel if the basic principles of the diet are followed the supplement could be included depending on the individual, their purse strings and of course what their oncologist thinks.

So what’s the bottom line?

After outlining the basic principles of these eating plans it may be a good idea to go back and read the second paragraph of this blog again because ultimately this is so profound. It is also worth noting that the common theme throughout all of these regimes is the use of fruits and vegetables in large quantities, no sugar or saturated fat or processed foods.

It is worth remembering that some people or organizations who promote these diets rely on people’s personal recommendations and stories to prove that they work. But there is not enough evidence for most scientists and cancer doctors. There needs to be proper organized clinical trials before we can be sure of their true benefits. Some researchers are doing exactly that but I am not aware of any results published so far.

Blog originally written by caroline Sept 2012

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