How Diet Can Help Cancer Patients Fight Mucositis
You have probably heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” When it comes to keeping your body in good health while receiving cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, those words are especially true. While it is inevitable that you will experience some side effects as the result of your treatment, there are things you can do to help lessen the severity of some, including oral mucositis. This article will explore the ways that diet can help manage mucositis.
What Is Oral Mucositis?
Let’s start with a quick overview of oral mucositis. Mucositis is an inflammation of the mucosa, the thin membranes that line all of the body’s passages that come into contact with the air, most especially the digestive tract. While mucositis can occur anywhere that mucosa exist in the body, the most common location for inflammation is in the mouth.
Mucositis has four basic stages, as follows:
- Stage 1 is often asymptomatic. At this stage, the damage that occurs affects the epithelial cells, which help protect the mucosa from damage. Most patients who have Stage 1 mucositis are unaware that they have it. At most, they may experience very mild inflammation.
- Stage 2 occurs when the epithelial cells have been damaged to the point that the mucosa are exposed and vulnerable. It is typically at this stage that patients begin to notice symptoms of mucositis. The mouth may be red and inflamed, and the gums and insides of the cheeks look red and shiny. The patient may also experience some pain while chewing and swallowing.
- Stage 3 is a progression that causes serious inflammation of both the mucosa and the submucosa. The pain at this stage may be severe, and patients may begin to find it difficult to eat certain foods.
- Stage 4 is the last stage. In addition to very serious inflammation and pain, the patient may develop open sores called ulcers on the mucosa. At this stage, patients will find it very painful to swallow, and may require a feeding tube in serious cases.
Patients who reach Stage 3 or Stage 4 must stop receiving cancer treatments to give the mucosa time to heal.
The Mucositis Diet
While patients can do many things to help delay the onset of mucositis and manage its severity, including practicing good oral hygiene and keeping the mouth lubricated, one of the most important things they can do is to follow a diet that eliminates foods that can exacerbate mucositis and gives the body what it needs to fight mucositis. Here are the dietary guidelines to follow:
- Avoid eating foods at extreme temperatures. While many cancer patients find that sucking ice chips during treatment is helpful, at other times it is important to steer clear of foods that are very hot or very cold. As mentioned earlier in the article, the mucosa is very thin and vulnerable to damage. During cancer treatment, it is important to do everything you can to protect the mucosa. Let your food cool before eating it, and stay away from frozen foods such as ice cream.
- Cut back on your sugar intake. Sugar is an inflammatory agent that can affect many different parts of the body. In addition, it is well known that sugar is a contributing factor in tooth decay. While you don’t have to cut sugar out of your diet entirely, it is a good idea to avoid refined sugar as much as possible. If you want to chew gum or suck on candy to keep your mouth moist during treatment, stick to sugar-free options.
- Eat foods high in antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect the body against a particular type of cell damage known as oxidative stress. They also help to boost the immune system, something that is very important for cancer patients. Some examples of foods high in antioxidants include dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, and dark red and purple fruits such as blueberries.
- Skip the spicy food. A lot of people love spicy food, but it does have the potential to damage the mucosa. When you eat food that includes chili peppers and other “hot” ingredients, you can feel a burning sensation on the inside of your mouth. It’s fine to season your food, but stick to mild seasonings while you are undergoing treatment.
- Avoid food with sharp edges. You might love to eat things like potato chips, tortilla chips, and peanut brittle. However, all of those foods have a rough, sometimes pointy, texture that can cause damage to the mucosa. It is best for cancer patients to eat soft foods that won’t damage the mucosa.
- Drink plenty of water. It is important to keep the mucosa moist and lubricated during treatment, and most people do not drink enough water. Make sure to get at least eight glasses of water per day.
- Eat protein. Your body needs lean protein to support cell growth in the mucosa. Good sources of lean protein include chicken, lean beef, lean pork, turkey breast, fish, and game meats such as venison. Vegetarians can get the protein they need from tofu, beans, and pseudo-grains such as quinoa.
In addition to following the dietary guidelines outlined above, patients who are at a high risk for mucositis may find it beneficial to take a supplement of L-glutamine. Glutamine is one of 20 amino acids that make up the building blocks of protein. In healthy people, glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the human body. However, many cancer patients experience a deficiency of glutamine, and recent studies suggest that taking an oral glutamine supplement can help delay the onset of mucositis as well as reducing its severity and duration.
Healios Glutamine Complex is a specially-formulated glutamine powder that is ideal for cancer patients. It is the result of research conducted by Dr. Peter M. Anderson, a renowned oncologist and hematologist. What sets Healios apart from other glutamine powders is that it is combined with synergistic ingredients that maximize its effectiveness. When mixed with water, it forms a pleasant-tasting solution. Patients are advised to take Healios twice a day, making sure to swish it in their mouths for about ten seconds before swallowing it. If you would like to learn more about Healios or order your own supply, please click here.