December 16, 2022
More than 50% of cancer patients receive radiation therapy at some point in their treatment journey. Radiation therapy can have several side effects including unexpected weight loss and reduced immunity. In order to counter these effects eating healthy is vital.
Maintaining a healthy diet while receiving radiation therapy is even more critical as it aids in the renewal of healthy tissues that keep the body and immune system healthy, and to enhance the patient's quality of life both during and after treatment.
What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy utilizes high-energy x-rays or other particles to kill cancer cells. It destroys cells by damaging the genetic material (DNA) of the cancer cell that regulates cell division and growth. Radiation therapy damages both healthy and cancerous cells, but the goal is to kill as few healthy cells as possible. Radiation-induced damage can often be repaired by healthy cells in most cases.
The side effects of radiation therapy could develop before or after the end of the course of treatment. Radiation therapy to the stomach, pelvis, rectum, head, neck, and brain is more likely to have adverse effects that cause malnutrition.
Any cancer treatment, including radiation therapy, will require a significant amount of energy from the body to heal. It is crucial for cancer patients to consume enough calories, particularly protein, to minimize the therapy’s side effects and improve their quality of life.
Hence, understanding what foods to avoid and what to eat will help in the long run for those undergoing radiation therapy.
Radiation therapists advise cooking at home whenever possible and reading nutrition labels if one is using packaged foods. It is preferable to avoid overly processed, refined foods. Additionally, it is necessary to avoid fried foods high in hydrogenated oils because they might worsen inflammation.
Here are a few more foods to avoid during radiation therapy:
This mineral raises blood pressure and makes the patient retain water, which makes them absorb hazardous toxins while receiving treatment. During radiation therapy, it is important to consume low-sodium foods.
Foods that increase the risk of contracting illnesses should be avoided, such as raw fish or shellfish, such as clams, oysters, and sushi.
Radiation therapy causes your body to produce toxins that lessen the digestive enzymes required for food digestion. Raw, unpeeled fruits and vegetables contain microorganisms that could raise the risk of gastrointestinal infection. Additionally, they have a lot of fiber, which can be challenging to digest while receiving treatment.
Fried foods aren't the healthiest to eat at any time, but radiation patients may be particularly vulnerable to their effects. Besides being hard to digest, frying foods creates free radicals. The free radicals accelerate the deterioration and aging of cell membranes. As a precaution, it is better to avoid fried foods when receiving radiation treatment.
Constipation, loose stools, and nausea are common side effects of radiation. Spicy foods can further upset the rectum and intestines and lead to gastrointestinal pain and cramps. Avoid consumption of any extremely hot or spicy food.
Read more: 9 Thoughtful Gifts for Cancer Patients
Fatigue is a typical side effect of radiation therapy and cancer treatment. As the body's main energy source, carbohydrates can provide the body with the fuel it needs for exercise and healthy body function. They will also aid in providing the body with the vitamins, minerals, and fiber it needs, as well as the calories it needs to maintain its weight and function. GOOD carbs include starchy vegetables, fruits, and yogurt.
During radiation therapy, consuming the right amount of protein is crucial. When the body doesn't get enough protein, which it needs for growth, it starts to break down muscle rather than build it up. Hence it is critical to include protein in every meal and snack - as it will aid in preserving lean muscle mass and repair radiation damage.
Foods that are high in protein include eggs, nuts, fish, poultry, and berries.
While it may be our natural tendency to categorize fats as generally unhealthy, patients who are undergoing radiation therapy can benefit greatly from them. Fatty acids make good fats, which are a vital source of energy for the body. When fats are broken down, the body uses them to carry vitamins through the blood, store energy, and insulate body tissue. Choose healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats over saturated and trans fats.
A few sources of healthy fat include fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, and soy).
The key to success in treatment is to pay attention to your body, be prepared, eat nutrient-dense meals, set your own mealtime guidelines, and drink lots of fluids.
Through this blog, we have detailed to you with dos and don'ts of food intake while receiving radiation therapy. However, it is advised to follow an experienced dietitian's advice on specific dietary requirements of patients with disorders or visit a cancer treatment center for guidance.