Healthy Diet May Improve Side Effects for Lymphoma Survivors

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Cancer survivors who are experiencing side effects from treatment, such as chronic fatigue, may benefit from a healthier diet.

Eating a healthier diet, consisting of more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fatty acids, was feasible for lymphoma survivors and may reduce fatigue and improve overall quality of life, according to recent study results.

The study was a small sample size of 10 lymphoma survivors who had previously completed chemotherapy and had been in remission for at least two years. Patients received nutrition counseling via Zoom and phone calls throughout the study period and were asked to incorporate whole grains, vegetables, fruit and fatty fish or plant-based food with high levels of dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in their diet.

The goals of the study, which was published the journal Nutrition and Cancer, were to improve overall diet and included specific food goals such as: eating at least one fruit high in vitamin C a day; one yellow or orange vegetable a day; one tomato serving a day; one leafy green serving a day; three servings of whole grains a day; and two servings of omega-3 fatty acid rich foods a day, whether that be plant- or seafood-based.

The results suggested that this remote intervention was feasible and acceptable for this group. At the end of the study, 90% of patients were still participating and adherence to the study goals were high, with patients meeting specific food goals for an average of 4.8-6.1 days a week.

Specifically, patients increased whole fruit consumption by 1.28 cups a day; vegetable intake from 2.05 cups per day to 3.76; omega-3 PUFA fish consumption from 1.76 serving per day to 3.75; and whole grain consumption from 1.2 servings per day to 3.65.

Of note, this dietary change also significantly reduced self-reported fatigue scores — which is a major lingering side effect among many cancer survivors.

“Both of those results were very promising,” said Tonya Orchad, lead author on the study and associate professor of human nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University in Columbous, in an interview with CURE®. “Our goal now is to really take this and scale it up to a larger intervention, and test it with a group of lymphoma survivors, as well as a control group to see if we can mimic these types of results, but in a larger study with a control.”

The Importance of a Healthy Diet

Having a healthy diet is important because it provides a variety of nutrients that are key for maintaining a good health status in general, but also increasing energy, which many cancer survivors struggle with. The fatigue and lack of energy can have a negative impact on quality of life, and may leave survivors unable to participate in daily life activities.

“So a healthy diet can provide … a whole array of nutrients that together can work to reduce some of these chronic symptoms that cancer survivors are experiencing,” she added.

A factor such as diet is important to evaluate for cancer survivors because it is something they can take control of and use to their benefit in managing side effects from treatment.

“It's one of the things that really give cancer survivors a feeling of empowerment, because so often going through treatment, they don't have a lot of input on how they can treat their disease that is sort of directed by their medical team,” Orchad said. “But they do have a lot of control over what they do with their lifestyle and their behaviors. And so, diet and physical activity are two areas that a survivor can target in order to try to really address some of the things that impact their quality of life.”

If a cancer survivor is looking to start eating a healthier diet Orchad noted that dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines or the American Institute for Cancer Research are great places to start. And if there are specific symptoms or side effects to address, they could look further into what is currently being evaluated for those — such as the diet in this study — to address fatigue.

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