Nutrition during cancer treatment – Yes it matters!!

(originally published in Cancer Care Centre’s Healthy Living Magazine)

 Nutrition is an extremely important aspect of health and well-being and is of particular relevance for cancer patients – both during treatment and beyond.  Recent research would suggest that the adage “just have a good diet” may be missing the mark with people under treatment.

 According to a recent article on Chemotherapy (an update service for medical clinicians) up to 85% of patients with cancer develop clinical malnutrition.  This is not recent news but it is nice to see it acknowledged as IMPORTANT! According to the article and its scientific references, being well-nourished can lead to a better prognosis1 and conversely the outcome of cancer treatment can be negatively affected by poor nutrition.2

It is of no surprise to people experiencing cancer treatment that lack of appetite and poor digestive capacity are real issues affecting their well-being. Not only may the desire to eat diminish— if not virtually disappear—but associated weight loss and muscle loss can increase physical weakness, making mobility difficult and further complicating the situation. 2 Termed cachexia, the weight loss associated with cancer and its treatment includes loss of body weight, fat and muscle, which in turn may increase poor outcomes including death.3

Luckily, we have the ability to support people undergoing treatment to maximize their digestive capacity, including appetite.  Treatment of such factors as oral thrush, sore mouth and mouth ulcers with nutritional and herbal medicines frequently overcomes the first barrier to good nutritional status – an inflamed mouth, lack of appetite and foul taste.   Further treatment of the digestive capacity including supportive digestive enzymes and herbs helps to overcome the second barrier to good nutritional status – poor digestive capacity at the stomach level.  Supporting the balance of the intestinal flora with probiotic, prebiotics and anti-inflammatory herbal approaches maximize the body’s ability to absorb and assimilate nutrients – poor absorption and assimilation being the third barrier to good nutritional status.

We also know that cachexia or wasting due to cancer or its treatment is an inflammatory process and research supports the use of anti-inflammatories such as fish oil to slow this process.  Other anti-inflammatory foods include turmeric, which has been demonstrated to have a whole range of anti-cancer effects.

Certainly it is encouraging that the impact of good nutrition on cancer treatment outcomes is increasingly supported by the medical literature.  It is evident that provision of the body with nutrients is essential for to support our innate power of self-healing. This wisdom is ancient.  Let us go back to a quote from Hippocrates: “Let food be your medicine.”  Let us not forget the wisdom of the ages.


1. Davies, M. Nutritional screening and assessment in cancer-associated malnutrition. Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2005;9 Suppl 2:S64-73.

2. The National Cancer Institute. Nutrition in Cancer Care. Last accessed July 11, 2013

3. Alberici Pastore C, Paiva Orlandi S, González MC. Association between an inflammatory-nutritional index and nutritional status in cancer patients. Nutr Hosp. 2013 January-February;28(1):188-193.