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Fatigue Fighting Foods

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Source: http://www.curetoday.com/index.cfm/fuse ... cle_id/318


Winter 2009

Fatigue-Fighting Foods


What patients eat may boost energy.

Fatigue can be demoralizing and frustrating for cancer patients, many of whom

consider the side effect more distressing than even pain or nausea, since those

are more easily managed by medications. Although fatigue is nearly universal

among cancer patients, it remains largely undertreated and under-researched.

Little is known about the cause and mechanisms of fatigue, but studies suggest it

may be related to the cancer itself, treatment side effects, or comorbid illnesses.

One area of research expected to gain more interest is the role of diet and

nutrition in managing cancer-related fatigue.

“There is still a major gap in research in this area,” notes cancer researcher

Barbara F. Piper, DNSc, RN, professor and chair of nursing research at the

University of Arizona College of Nursing in Tucson. “And in lieu of the evidence,

the best guidelines we have are the guidelines that are available for nutrition in

healthy people,” says Piper, who served on the National Comprehensive Cancer

Network panel that issued updated guidelines on cancer-related fatigue in March.

In the meantime, that leaves dietitians like David Grotto, RD, LDN, to tailor

nutritional plans to individual patients based on a comprehensive assessment of

their needs and health status. “Most patients don’t have years to wait for good

clinical trials in this field,” says Grotto, president of Nutrition Housecall, LLC, a

Chicago-area company whose services include in-home nutrition consultations

for cancer patients. “I literally have patients who are too fatigued to eat.”

Patients should discuss fatigue symptoms with their doctor, and if appropriate,

consult with a registered dietitian. A detailed assessment can determine if a

patient is getting the proper amount and types of nutrients and fluids. Grotto

says adequate nutrition can be especially difficult for patients experiencing

appetite and taste changes. A dietitian can suggest palatable substitutes that meet

an individual’s target for calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats.

Complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, offer a good

source of long-lasting energy, Grotto says. Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar,

provide a brief surge of energy followed quickly by a return of fatigue, and should

therefore be limited.

Protein, a key ingredient in managing cancer fatigue, builds and repairs damaged

body tissue. If cancer uses the body as a fuel source, some patients may lack

protein reserves in their muscles, which can leave them short of energy. “Their

bodies may really be crying out for additional sources of protein,” Grotto says.

Good sources of protein include fish, lean meat, eggs, soy, and beans.

Nutrient-rich snacks—hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter on toast, or soups—come

in handy when a patient is too tired to whip up a full meal. Five or six smaller

meals throughout the day as opposed to the traditional three-meal-a-day

schedule may be helpful for patients with nausea and vomiting.

Many patients find it useful to keep a food diary, says Dee Sandquist, MS, RD,

director of nutrition, diabetes, weight management and wound healing at

Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington. “That way, we

can work together to identify the food groups they may not be eating enough of

or perhaps too much of,” she says.

Patients should resist the urge to use vitamins or dietary supplements to make up

for what’s lacking in their diet without consulting their doctor, cautions

Sandquist. Some supplements can interact with medications or have harmful side


While patients and physicians await solid evidence that diet may improve

cancer-related fatigue, what has been proven to boost energy is exercise, such as

moderate walking, biking, and swimming

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