No food, no diet has the power to cure cancer and this is one of the most frequent rumors circulating in relation to this disease. On World Cancer Day we talk about food and its relationship with prevention, cancer treatment or misinformation.
And we approach it from EFESalut space on Twitter where you can listen to the conversation about “Food and cancer” that we had with the dietitian-nutritionist of the Spanish Association against Cancer Olga Muñoz and the professor of biochemistry at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, José Miguel Muletwhich, among other things, recommend zero alcohol consumption, one of the risk factors.
The experts agree that the scientific evidence demonstrates the importance of a healthy diet in the prevention of cancer together with other lifestyle habits, such as physical activity or not consuming alcohol and tobacco, and taking into account the influence of environment and the genetic profiles of each individual.
“Sometimes we go from the scientific evidence relating to the fact that food is a prevention factor in some types of cancer, to say that there are some foods that cure cancer,” warns the researcher and scientific popularizer author of “Medicine without deception” and “What is healthy food?”.
“No food, no diet cures cancer – emphasizes Mulet – despite the fact that there are “bestselling” books that say so. Here we fall into false therapies and false hopes that do a lot of harm to people who suffer from this disease.”
According to Olga Muñoz, “we should not focus on anti-cancer diets” that promise a cure, while for prevention it is necessary to follow eating patterns rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, together with physical activity, which helps to control the obesity, another risk factor for cancer.
This is one summary of the main responses on nutrition and cancer from experts that can be heard in full on eEFESalut Space on Twitter:
Alcohol consumption and cancer
Jose Miguel Mule: The first thing to avoid is alcohol is a carcinogen categorized by the World Health Organization. Also very fatty foods that promote obesity and diets very rich in meat, which for colorectal cancer can have a very negative incidence.
Olga Muñoz: We have so socially accepted the consumption of alcohol that we do not know the risks it can bring for cancer and other diseases. Knowing that alcohol is linked to seven different types of cancer can help us understand as a society that there are no risk-free doses and that alcohol consumption must be zero.
Are some tumors more related to food than others?
Muñoz: Yes, like the breast in postmenopausal women, also the endometrium, colon… and we know that 40% in men and 60% in women will be related to food.
Mule: Cirrhosis and liver cancer are directly related to alcohol.
Cancer-related and food-related boils are very common…
Muñoz: Since nutritionists are not in oncology teams and patients do not have information, many times they look in places without scientific evidence, on the internet, or in books without a scientific basis and here comes the risk. If the tumor itself in some cases implies a risk of malnutrition, if we add misinformation, anxiety, harm and false hopes are generated.
Mule: The main lie is to say that a diet or food can cure cancer. An appropriate choice of food is a prevention factor. But once in treatment, no diet will cure cancer, at most diet is a supportive factor in therapy.
There are pseudo-therapies that said that cancer was cured by starving the patient, because that way the cancer would not feed and die. There were cases of severe malnutrition.
How to defend vulnerable people from bullies?
Mulet: The first advice I give is that if a person has been diagnosed with cancer, get off WhatsApp and social networks and listen to the doctor.
Muñoz: Act with information and have doubts resolved by the medical team, dieticians and nutritionists, and make the person feel safe and critical of the information around them.
Food guidelines during oncological treatment
Muñoz: Food during and after treatment must be healthy, balanced. If there are habits to improve, do so, but we must not make excessive changes. Be physically active and consult with specialists.
Mule: It is difficult to give general advice because each cancer treatment is individual for each person. When a person is undergoing treatment, it is best to put yourself in the hands of a good nutritionist who will tell you specific guidelines for the treatment and for your condition. Many nutritionists support oncology units, it is very necessary.
What if there are effects of chemotherapy such as nausea or vomiting?
Muñoz: It depends on each person, but you don’t have to force it. It is necessary to eat small but frequent meals during the day, dry food, cooked food, grilled food, baked food…with little fat are better tolerated.
Mule: Patients even lose their appetite. The doctor will assess whether to treat this nausea with medication… anything makes it easier to avoid malnutrition, but a person in these circumstances does not feel like eating a fava bean.
Are there foods or drinks that can interfere with the treatments?
Mule: When you’re taking psychotropic drugs even as a joke, you can try alcohol because the effect is enhanced and it can be very serious. The same thing happens when a person is undergoing chemotherapy.
We know, and this was a study that was published recently, and the results are very surprising, that a diet rich in antioxidants is counterproductive when a person is undergoing cancer treatment, because what it does is neutralize much of the body’s response, especially the immune response. Alcoholic drinks or very fatty foods may interfere with some part of the treatment.
Muñoz: Totally agree, a supplement is not recommended if it is not prescribed by the medical team. Food is enough and if it is not, the medical team or dietitian-nutritionist already assesses it.
Is it necessary to educate in nutrition to fight cancer?
Muñoz: As a society we must be aware of all the risk factors that exist. More than education itself, it is about changing environments, making them healthier. Ideally, schools should teach nutrition and even cooking.
Mule: We have a problem with young people, especially teenagers, and that is that the consumption of energy drinks, which are veritable sugar and caffeine bombs, has skyrocketed, and no one seems interested in putting a stop to it. This is a health problem that we will have in the long run. I think there is a lot of room for intervention and improvement in nutrition, especially in children and adolescents.