How can nutritional therapy support cancer patients and their mental health? | Guest Post

25 July 2021 - by Nutritionist Resource

This guest blog is written by Katie from Nutritionist Resource, a trusted online support service for professional nutritional advice. Visit their dedicated cancer hub for more information.

“We all suffer with anxiety from time to time. When we’re coping with varying emotions and ill health, our anxieties are often heightened and can be extremely sensitive. Coping with a cancer diagnosis can be incredibly difficult. The diagnosis, the treatment process, and even the recovery journey, can quell extreme anxiety. 

What is anxiety?

According to the dictionary, ‘anxiety’ is defined as “A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.” 

You might be familiar with the feeling of butterflies in the stomach, or regular trips to the bathroom before a job interview, and these physical symptoms are somewhat expected at times of heightened stress.

Anxiety becomes a constant state when it negatively impacts daily life, making ordinary tasks unmanageable and leaving the sufferer in a perpetual state of unease. But there are complementary therapies – including nutritional therapy – that can help quell anxiety.

What is nutritional therapy?

The term nutritional therapy covers a variety of nutrition professionals who can help you to explore the relationship between food and your body, understand how diet and nutrition can aid medicinal treatment of illness, and learn how to implement and manage lifestyle changes for better health.

When an individual is diagnosed with cancer, not only does the physical body suffer, but it is common for mental health problems to arise, with anxiety and panic often being prevalent with the person’s coming to terms with diagnosis and thoughts about the future.

How can nutritional therapy support cancer patients?

Food can play a huge part in affecting mood and mood disorders, and through nutritional therapy, you and the therapist can identify any issues and devise a tailored plan to suit your needs and help calm an anxious mind when other areas are under strain.

Nutritional Therapist Allison Llewellyn said: “As we now know the gut and the brain talk to each other, they are a two-way street. Our gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to our emotions and our brain is aware if our gut is less than happy.”

A picture containing food, plate, fruit, bowl

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Stimulants to avoid

A variety of food and drink is known to increase your anxiety levels due to the chemical reactions that take place in your body in response to consumption. These include:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Cured or aged foods
  • High sugar foods
  • Ketchup
  • Gluten
  • Soy sauce

The following foods are known to help calm anxieties when included in a balanced diet.

Foods to include

  • Turkey breast
  • Live cultured yoghurt
  • Blueberries
  • Dark chocolate
  • Avocado
  • Walnuts
  • Turmeric

Further support

“Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters aiding our well being and sleep respectively,” says Allison. “By eating foods rich in tryptophan, such as cheese, eggs, poultry, meat, dark chocolate, buckwheat and most proteins, we can help to increase the benefits from these neurotransmitters.”

Living with cancer is exhausting enough without having to worry about what you can and cannot eat, and the volume of advice available is conflicting and confusing. Be sure to speak to your doctor and care team before making drastic changes to your diet and lifestyle. You may find it beneficial to consult a qualified nutrition professional to help learn more about your needs, and alleviate some of the stress of monitoring your diet.

If you’re undergoing treatment for cancer, we do recommend that you check with a medical professional or qualified practitioner before trying new dietary approaches or supplements.”

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