Cancer Patients, Cachexia, and Nutrition
Significant muscle loss remains a concern for cancer patients during treatment. The treatment itself can cause eating difficulties due to nausea, bowel issues, or even damage to the mouth or esophagus resulting in pain with swallowing and difficulty eating adequate amounts of food. Chemoradiation also disrupts normal taste and salivary gland function. It is surprising to see how little people will eat when they cannot taste the food. Oftentimes, this leaves liquid meal replacement products as the go-to source for nutrition.
However, weight loss in cancer patients is not always bad. In many cases, weight loss may even be helpful, as fat tissue gives off inflammatory factors and hormones that can fuel cancer growth.1,2 Weight gain in breast cancer patients, for instance, can lead to increased chances that the treated cancer will recur.3
Cachexia, on the other hand, is the unwanted, significant, and progressive loss of appetite, weight, and body mass (especially muscle).4 It is also accompanied by a state of systemic inflammation throughout the body. Cachexia is the fear that has led many dietitians and oncologists to tell patients to eat whatever they can, just do not lose weight. The loss of muscle mass from cachexia in cancer patients is usually considered irreversible.
However, decades of research have started to tell us what works and what doesn’t when it comes to stopping the loss of muscle mass in cancer patients. Earlier studies in mice showed that medium chain triglycerides (MCT) appear to halt muscle loss without feeding cancer cells.5 In fact, weight loss was reduced in proportion to the amount of fat in the diet. Further data showed that MCT increased ketones in the blood, which may also help to combat cancer cachexia.6 More recent studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil may help fight cachexia.7
The key here is that healthy fat sources appear to combat cachexia, while recommending mega doses of sugar and other poor sources of nutrition provide little benefit. Simply telling patients to eat more, whether that is ice cream or popsicles, does not work as it does not address the underlying inflammatory and metabolic issues.8
What about telling patients to turn to the standard — Boost, Ensure, Glucerna, and Carnation Instant Breakfast?
I have compiled what I believe (in my humble opinion) are the worst possible ingredients to feed anyone, let alone cancer patients:
2. High-fructose corn syrup
3. Vegetable oils: Full of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and known to increase inflammation. As cachexia is inflammation gone amok, inflammatory food is likely the last thing we want to feed cancer patients.
4. Poor protein sources
Please finish reading this article at the above linked URLs. Dr. Colin Champ is a real champion, in my opinion in his discussion and knowledge of eating (a simple act). It has become an unhealthy act in western countries over the past 50 years but a new revolution is brewing and this doctor and many others are on the forefront of educating us on how to live a healthy, dis-ease free life!
Follow him on twitter and facebook too!