Complementing Cancer Care With Healing Foods

One of the keys to surviving the stress, physical and spiritual changes during a cancer diagnosis and treatment is certainly the unconditional support of family and loved ones.  I’ve been asked to write about the role of Chinese medical nutrition from friends of a survivor, who are planning on supporting the family with meals.  Clearly, the intention behind creating healthy, healing meals and delivering them to a friend is medicine on its own.  I’ll attempt to complement this pure intention with ideas for what to put on those plates from the wisdom of Chinese medicine.  

Chinese dietary therapy is one of the 5 branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which also includes acupuncture, massage, meditation and herbalism.  Just like we customize acupuncture point prescriptions, we create dietary modifications based on our patient’s constitution and give individualized recommendations.  We do not treat diseases, we treat the person.  That being said, I’m happy to share some general dietary recommendations to complement cancer care.  In TCM, every food is organized according to its nature, cold, cool, neutral, warm or hot.  In general, we choose neutral and warm foods for cancer patients, unless side effects of medications are causing too much heat in the body, then we would include cooling foods as well.   Tumors are classified as excess phlegm and dampness in Chinese medical theory, we recommend foods that dry dampness and transform phlegm.  
For that reason, recommendations include avoiding the following foods:
Fatty, fried foods, concentrated fruit juices, soy, bananas, peanut butter, and dairy.  Other things to avoid are salt, miso and soy sauce.  Salt intake should come from algae as much as possible.   Avoid poor quality cooking oils, refined foods, and anything from a can.  

As much as possible all foods should be organic.  Here are some specific foods recommended:
Fats:  Fats are widely valued in Chinese medicine whether from oils, nuts, seeds or animal products.  They are yin nature which means they create a sense of security, heaviness and grounding.  They build tissues, help with fluid metabolism and direct nutrients to the nervous system.  DHA (docohexaenoic acid) is an omega 3 fatty acid and may be useful to include.  It is a major structural component of the brain.   DHA levels are increased by eating fish and fish oils, and foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid such as seeds of flax, chia, and pumpkin, walnuts, and dark greens.   There have also been studies regarding another omega 3 oil, flax oil, and its use to complement dissolving tumors. 
Vegetables:
Shitakes:  These mushrooms are neutral in nature and enhance immunity and have a strong effect against tumors and cancers.   Chines herbalism uses other mushrooms such as ling zhi (re
ishi), turkey tail and maitake in herbal formulations for cancrer care.   For more information see Fungi Perfecti.
Beets:  Both roots and tops, cleanse the liver and blood, strengthens the heart and spirit.  Also helpful for constipation that often comes along with cancer.  
Onions and garlic:  Contains the bioflavonoid quercitin, said to inhibit malignant cell growth.  
Radish and daikon:  Very cleansing
Cabbage, turnip, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts- are all recommended by the National Cancer Institute.  They contain dithiolthiones, a group of anti cancer compounds.  In particular, fermenting these foods, like sauerkraut, is particularly useful.  
Grains:
Oats and rye stimulate the flow or Qi and drain dampness (candida).  
Millet and roasted buckwheat groats (kasha): Detoxifies 
Barley:  Decreased dampness, strengthens digestion.  
Amaranth:  Eliminates excesses
Algae:  Chinese medicine recommends the use of seaweeds to dissolver dampness and accumulations (tumors).  Seaweeds are highly concentrated sources of iodine, which speeds thyroid activity and oxidizes cells.  Because they are high in sodium, they should be used regularly but sparingly.  Avoid seaweeds if digestion is cold (loose stools).  
Sprouts: Sprouting foods allows the fats and proteins to be readily available and digestible. They are said to move the qi of the liver, very helpful for detoxification.  Some sprouts to include: mung bean, alfalfa, aduki, sunflower greens.  All spouts should be lightly cooked, as most patients will be dealing with some form of qi deficiency in their digestion.
Thank you for allowing me to share this information with you.  If you would like more information, and the place where much of this information is from, consider buying Paul Pitchford’s book, Healing with Whole Foods, available here.  
Here are some other references to continue to support your loved one:
Kerry Jenni M.S., L.Ac.
Licensed Acupuncturist
Montpelier and Williston, VT
This post is not meant to diagnose, treat, mitigate or cure any disease or medical condition. The statements contained in this document have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Please consult your doctor before starting ANY health, exercise or nutritional supplement program and/or before using our products and services during pregnancy, and/or if you have a serious medical condition.