Cancer and Your Immune System

We all know intimately a family member or friend whose life has been changed irrevocably by a cancer diagnosis. How do we help support ourselves and our loved ones when a cancer diagnosis presents itself? Does it matter what we eat?  Are there particular supplements that we know can be supportive and of help? It is so difficult to know what to do on a cancer journey when you are challenged by overwhelming masses of information. It is difficult to decipher and choose which information is most relevant. 

Ultimately and regardless of diagnosis and medication there are a few simple supports that can be helpful to just about everyone. We need to support our immune systems so that our bodies have the best and strongest ability to fight.

EAT HEALTHY AND AVOID SUGARBeing unwell makes us examine our food choices and habits. It’s time to put them under the spotlight but not be judgemental or hard on ourselves. We all grew up in a fast food culture that did not include education on healthy eating and how it can play a part in our health. We want to make sure that the fuel we put in our bodies is supportive and encouraging. Green food - lots of green and colourful veggies on our plate feeds your cells with nutrition that can aid the body in fighting the good fight. SUGAR IS INFLAMMATORY full stop. When you have cancer you want to reduce your inflammation as much as possible to help your immune system fight the cancer. Try your best to remove sugar and aspartame and high fructose corn syrup from your system because they don’t help but hinder but ...don’t beat yourself up. We are all human and have to find ways to comfort ourselves. Every good choice we make is one less not so good choice. Let’s turn our comfort over to the glory of the apple a day. 

The question regarding which supplements to take is complicated. Every person’s journey is unique and requires individualized care and concern… however — it is rare to hear from the oncology team that you are not allowed to eat curry or a salad or bacon and eggs or yogurt, kombucha or fettuccine with shiitake mushrooms. I think a quick tip with regards to supplements can be — can you eat  it? If so, then you can most likely take it as a supplement. It is always important to check with your pharmacist and health care team but the general rule of thumb is if you can eat it in your food, then why can’t you take it in supplement form? Turmeric the spice that provides the yellow in the curry powder is a powerful anti-inflammatory spice. Medicinal mushrooms are being used in tandem with some chemo and radiation protocols with specific cancers as well probiotics can be a powerful tool to support immune and digestive health as well as fight constipation when dealing with strong constipation inducing painkillers. 

Turmeric is a powerful tool but as a spice has a terrible absorption rate in terms of the active ingredient, Curcumin. It is important to first check using it as a supplement as there are some specific contraindications when taking it as a supplement - most specifically it has a thinning effect so those who are on blood thinners will need to confirm its practicality for use with their pharmacist. If you are able to use it, look for a supplement that has fantastic absorbability. Turmeric is being used side by side with many mainstream cancer therapies as a way to reduce many complications such as ascites. I tend to google the exact diagnosis and type of cancer and look to see if there is a study being done with Curcumin and has it had beneficial effect. Curcumin is being recognized as a potent tool in the cancer fighting arsenal.

I am on the mushroom bandwagon and I want everyone else to join me too. I think people fall into two camps - love or hate. If you are a lover then you are lucky as mushrooms are going to become one of the most talked about and important discoveries for researchers not only in the fight against disease but also in the sustainability and health of our planet. These ugly, lovely, unique and spectacular species are a gift of health. They promote immune health and have incredible antiviral, anti microbial properties. Check out the work of PAUL STAMETS, mycologist extraordinaire, wh gives a great TED TALK about the his own family’s personal journey with breast cancer and the research and interesting properties of the mushroom Turkey Tail.  

Probiotics are quite simply good bacteria that promote life. They are our good armies fighting on behalf of our immune system. They are the new rage in terms of the latest information on what disease is: they are considered to be the front line defence, the “micro biome” , and involved in not simply digestion and elimination but also acne, weight, gut health, mood, heart health, immune system communication, urogenital health and so much more. Eat your yogurt has been the cry - and this is because of the healthy bacteria found in it. It is really important to know however that all probiotics are not the same. Each contain different strains and different strains work in different ways in the body. If you have a yeast problem, you need Lactobacillus Acidophilus and rhamnosus  but if you are constipated these will do nothing for the problem. Constipation and diarrhea happen in the bowel and therefore you need bacteria that live in the bowel - the Bifidus strains. Constipation can be a challenge for people on opiates as they have a binding effect and slow down the bowel’s motility. A good strong probiotic with lots of Bifidus bacteria can be an option to laxatives and enhance the immune system at the same time.

Vitamin D is a simple sunshine supplement that has strong cancer fighting properties and unless we are being told that our particular cancer means avoiding sunlight then in fact we could benefit from the immune enhancing effects of some spring sunshine every day.