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Some people would say complementary medicine is the best of two worlds. It’s where therapies that might be considered alternative or natural are used alongside conventional medicine to treat an illness.
Cancer is one area where these different types of treatment and therapies are coming together more often. Decades of cancer treatments are proving to work better when combined with therapies not typically considered in hospitals and doctor’s offices.
For example, several years ago, scientists at the University Hospitals of Leicester in the United Kingdom gave omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil to people undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, they found that the fats bolstered their response to the medical treatment and improved their quality of life.
More recently, scientists have found the Mediterranean diet, which has been demonstrated to reduce inflammation and improve markers for aging and support good prostate, breast, gut, brain, bone and heart health, may soon improve treatment response and survival rates in advanced melanoma patients.
The Mediterranean diet helps support melanoma therapy
Researchers in the U.K. and the Netherlands recorded the dietary intake of patients with advanced melanoma who were being treated with immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) drugs.
ICIs work by blocking immune system checkpoints, which then prompts the body’s own T cells to attack cancers. These drugs have been very successful in treating melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.
Results showed individuals who followed a Mediterranean diet showed an improved response to ICIs. In addition, the diet was significantly associated with progression-free survival of melanoma 12 months after ICI treatment.
The Mediterranean diet is a mostly plant-based diet rich in mono-and polyunsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts and fish, as well as polyphenols and fiber from vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
Polyphenols are a subset of phytonutrients that are especially “bioactive.” They are known for drug-like effects in human health including anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-spasmodic, anti-cancer, anti-aging, hepatoprotective, hypolipidemic, neuroprotective, hypotensive, diabetes, osteoporosis, analgesic, protection from UVB-induced carcinogenesis and immuno-modulator.
It’s easy to see why the researchers believe the Mediterranean diet could play an important role in immunotherapy success. Clinical trials are being expanded to investigate outcomes for other tumor types, including digestive cancers.
“ICI has helped to revolutionize the treatment of different types of advanced cancers,” says Laura Bolte, author of the study and Ph.D. candidate at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands,. “Our study underlines the importance of dietary assessment in cancer patients starting ICI treatment and supports a role for dietary strategies to improve patient outcomes and survival.”
Easing into a Mediterranean diet
Even if you don’t have skin cancer, it’s a good idea from an overall health standpoint to adopt a Mediterranean-style diet.
But if you’re used to eating tons of red meat and processed foods, it can be tough to completely overhaul your eating habits in one fell swoop. My suggestion is to take it a step at a time…
- Start by replacing red meat at one meal a week with fish or lean meat.
- Add more leafy greens and fruit to every plate.
- Lean on extra virgin olive oil. The monounsaturated fats and antioxidants in olive oil are fantastic for your heart health, and the spicy, fruity flavor of good olive oil adds a nice depth to many dishes.
- Replace sugary soda or dangerous diet drinks with seltzer water that’s naturally flavored with fruits like lemon, lime, berries or melon.
- If you’re someone who loves to snack on chips between meals, try replacing them with a handful of nuts like almonds, walnuts or pecans.
Finally, if (like me) you’re a fan of dessert, try having an apple, orange or bowl of berries at the end of a meal instead of cookies, cake or ice cream. Make the switch once a week to start, then gradually up the ante until you’re no longer consuming sugary desserts regularly. I can tell you from personal experience you’ll eventually stop craving them and will probably find them too sweet when you do indulge.
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