17 posts tagged “food”

From tomatoes to turmeric: Can foods fight inflammation?

Posted October 26th, 2017 by

Inflammation is a hot topic. What’s it all about? And what’s the scoop on certain diets, foods and supplements, such as turmeric, when it comes to fighting inflammation?

What is inflammation?

Not all inflammation is “bad.” Acute inflammation is part of the body’s natural way of defending itself from foreign substances like viruses, bacteria, cuts and splinters. It may cause redness, swelling, heat and/or pain. The upside is, these symptoms are a sign that the body is responding after an injury or infection by triggering white blood cells and disease-fighting chemicals.

But some “other” kinds of inflammation — like chronic inflammation (which may include constant low-grade or systemic inflammation) and inflammation from autoimmune disorders (where the body attacks its own healthy cells as if they’re foreign) — doesn’t always show visible or obvious symptoms and can play a more long-term and complex role, according to Mayo Clinic.

Which diseases or conditions does it affect?

Mounting research shows that inflammation is a common underlying factor (and possibly a cause) in many — perhaps even all — diseases.

You’ve probably heard about the role of inflammation in arthritis or heart health. But researchers and doctors have also studied inflammation’s link to a wide range of other diseases and conditions, including cancerdiabetesAlzheimer’s diseasemultiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease (PD), major depressive disorder (MDD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and ALS (note: in the case of ALS and some other conditions, researchers are still determining whether some inflammation may be protective rather than harmful, so more research is needed).

Over the past decade, scientists have also started to identify certain genes associated with inflammation, and research on that front continues.

What can food do?

Some people follow an “anti-inflammatory diet,” but the science behind these particular diets does not clearly support the theory that they thwart inflammation, and doctors advise being wary of the health claims they make.

That said, taking steps to maintain a healthy weight and eat a variety of foods with anti-inflammatory properties (rather than follow a certain “Diet” with a capital “D”) may benefit your health.

“Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The team at Harvard says these foods have anti-inflammatory properties:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and collards
  • Nuts like almonds and walnuts
  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines
  • Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges

On the flip side, they say, some foods promote inflammation — so try to avoid or limit these (hint: they’re already foods with a pretty bad rap):

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
  • French fries and other fried foods
  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
  • Margarine, shortening and lard

Talk with your doctor or a registered dietician about a healthy eating plan with your health condition(s) in mind.

What’s the deal with turmeric?

There’s currently a lot of buzz around turmeric and some other supplements believed to help fight inflammation. Turmeric, a plant related to ginger, is a common spice known for its gold color and use in curry powder.

On top of being used as spice, it can be taken as a supplement. The main anti-inflammatory ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is available as a supplement on its own (the content of curcumin in turmeric spice is only around 3%, so curcumin supplements may pack more of an anti-inflammatory punch). One study found that curcumin may have the same anti-inflammatory effects as NSAID pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofin, (Advil/Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).

Preliminary studies have shown promise for curcumin’s use in people with ulcerative colitismultiple myelomalupus and depression. However, there’s still a lack of conclusive research on the effects of turmeric or curcumin in people with many other conditions, so these supplements typically aren’t recommended as part of a treatment plan at this point. Additional studies on curcumin are currently underway for people with some forms of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, MS and PD.

Talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new vitamin, supplement or treatment.

What about other supplements?

Overall, the potential role of dietary supplements is “largely uncharted when it comes to carefully done clinical trials for safety and effectiveness,” according to Brent Bauer, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness. Keeping that in mind, here are some other supplements with possible anti-inflammatory effects that researchers have studied to some extent, the Mayo Clinic says:

  • Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) — This could ease rheumatoid arthritis joint pain and osteoarthritis knee pain during activity, but more research is needed.
  • Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) — It’s commonly used in Europe and may be effective in the short-term treatment of osteoarthritic pain.
  • Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) — Made from the mangosteen fruit, this supplement may have anti-allergy, antibacterial, antifungal, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory qualities, but more research in humans is needed.
  • Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) — This may help improve organ function in people with cirrhosis, a chronic liver disease. It may also be helpful in treating chronic hepatitis. But more research is needed before it can be recommended.

“My best advice concerning chronic inflammation is to stay tuned,” says Dr. Bauer. “This is a huge area of interest in the medical world and there are bound to be discoveries down the road that can improve well-being and the quality of health.”

On PatientsLikeMe

Hundreds of patients report using turmeric for a wide variety of health reasons — see what they have to say. Join the community for even more details on the treatments patients have tried and to learn and share about nutrition with your condition.

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How cancer affects diet + pointers for trying to eat well

Posted September 8th, 2017 by

Many PatientsLikeMe members have talked in the forum about the dietary impact of lung cancer treatment and how it has hindered their eating. As many as 40 to 60 percent of patients with lung cancer experience unintentional weight loss.

Eating well (or as best you can) during and after cancer treatment can help you keep up your body weight, strength and ability to fight off infection. With the help of our Health Data Integrity Team, we’ve rounded up some diet and nutrition pointers for people with lung cancer.

Treatment side effects impacting diet

Everyone responds differently to treatments, and side effects vary in severity for patients, but here are some common ways treatments can affect your diet.

  • Surgery – Recovery requires extra energy and nutrients to heal wounds, fight infection and recover (physically and emotionally). If your weight is below normal, either before or after surgery, work with your care team to develop a nutrient-rich eating plan.
  • Chemotherapy – It aims to kill cancer cells, but chemo may also damage healthy cells in the mouth, stomach and intestines. This may result in mouth sores, taste changes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. When more than one drug is given (as is often the case in lung cancer chemotherapy), more side effects may occur and they may be more severe.
  • Radiation therapy – The high-energy rays can harm normal, healthy cells in the treatment area (often the chest and back). This may cause difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, taste changes, sore mouth or sore throat. Increasing fatigue and decreased appetite can also make it difficult to prepare meals and eat.
  • Immunotherapy – This emerging form of cancer treatment uses your immune system to fight cancer cells by more effectively recognizing and attacking them. Some people experience loss of appetite, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, constipation and diarrhea (which can result in dehydration).

What can you do before treatment?

As you prepare for lung cancer treatment, it’s important to eat well in order to maintain a healthy weight, keep up your energy and strength and take in the foods and nutrients your body needs (such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates, healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and plenty of water). These steps can also help before your treatment begins:

  • Work with your physician, care team and/or a registered dietician to make nutrition goals that work with your current body weight, body mass index (BMI), treatment plan and any other health conditions you may have. Your doctor may advise you to eat healthy but try to avoid losing weight or dropping too much weight (if weight loss is a common side effect of your treatment regimen).
  • Stock up your pantry and freezer with healthy food and ready-to-eat meals and snacks. Include food that you can eat when you’re feeling sick (like some low-fiber foods that may not irritate your digestive system as much).
  • Ask or allow friends and family members to help you prepare meals you can freeze and eat later. Also, check out meal delivery services, such as Meals on Wheels and Savor Health.

What can you do during treatment?

It can be hard to predict which side effects you’ll experience, and how severe they’ll be. Stay in close contact with your care team about how your treatment is affecting your diet – they may prescribe something to help you. These tips and tricks can also come in handy, depending on the side effects you experience

  • Eat five or six smaller meals, every couple of hours each day. Try to take in plenty of protein and calories, as well as a few servings of colorful produce. Smaller portions may be more tolerable than three large meals a day.
  • A few times a week, try eating plant-based foods (such as beans and veggies) instead of meat-based meals.
  • Eat foods that appeal to you. Don’t force yourself to eat something that doesn’t look good or makes you feel nauseated.
  • Avoid eating your favorite foods when you feel nauseated. This may cause a negative association with that food.
  • Stay hydrated with water or low-sugar juice and sports drinks throughout the day. Some people feel more ill when they try to eat and drink too much at the same time, so try sipping a drink with your meal or having a larger drink around 30 minutes before or after you eat.
  • Stay as active as possible, which may stimulate your appetite – while also getting plenty of rest.
  • Talk with your doctor before taking any new medications, supplements or treatments for nausea, diarrhea or constipation (even over-the-counter or alternative treatments).

How about after treatment?  

Following cancer treatment, many people experience a dry or sore mouth and throat, as well as changes in smell and taste – sometimes called “metal mouth.” Here are some ideas to help you manage:

  • Eat soft, moist food that’s easier to chew and swallow. Using some extra sauce or dressing can help soften food.
  • Avoid acidic food and drinks that may cause pain, such as citrus, alcohol, caffeine, vinegar, spicy food and carbonated drinks. Also, avoid coffee, tea and soda because caffeine and carbonation may worsen dry mouth.
  • Eat food and drink at room temperature because hot or cold food may irritate your mouth.
  • If some foods no longer taste good to you or taste too bland, try new flavors and spices to “trick your taste buds,” and add some sea salt.
  • Use plastic utensils, if metal ones cause a bad taste in your mouth.
  • If water or food taste metallic, add some citrus (such as a squeeze of lemon or lime).
  • If food tastes bitter or harsh, consider adding a bit of sweetness with sugar or grade-A pasteurized honey (avoid raw honey).

Which diet-related side effects have you experienced with cancer treatment? Join our community today to talk about topics like this with patients like you.

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