a diagnosis of Glioblastoma stage 4 brain cancer, Lydia Johnsonís
recovery is dependent on a lot of things. She spent this summer
completing radiation and chemotherapy. Sheís incorporating exercise
as much as she can. And, of course, sheís eating as healthy as
possible to aid in her recovery.
"Actually, it hasnít been that
difficult," says the Oconomowoc resident. "Iíve always
been a Weight Watcherís person, and this isnít that much
With the help of Dena McDowell, a
clinical dietician specializing in oncology at Froedtert Hospital,
Johnson has learned the importance of eating a wide variety of foods,
particularly nonmeat sources of protein and fresh fruits and
vegetables. "My friends have been bringing me meals twice a week,
and virtually everyone is including salads and fresh fruit," she
says. "I also have smoothies, too."
While no one food group is a super
food, fruits and vegetables do earn a gold star from local
nutritionists for both cancer patients and the general public. "A
good diet is never about one particular food," says Barb Taggart,
a dietician at Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls.
"When you eliminate a particular food group, you also eliminate
the important nutrients that food group offers."
And when you make a point to include
fruit and vegetables, tables, and they donít lend themselves so
easily to isolation. "Theyíre still quite undefined," says
Taggert. "People sometimes will ask: Canít I just take a
vitamin pill or a supplement? They donít work that way."
A classic study involving smokers and
beta-carotene supplements unfortunately bore this out. Beta-carotene
was given to smokers in two clinical studies during the 1990s to
reduce their risk of lung cancer. Unfortunately, ingesting the
isolated substances had the opposite effect: Trial participants began
to develop lung cancer at an extra high rate.
"The best way to get those
phytochemicals is to eat the food the way nature intended it: Fresh
out of the ground," adds Taggert.
But fresh doesnít necessarily mean
totally raw, caution the dieticians. While all of us can benefit from
incorporating raw fruits and vegetables into our diet, subsisting on
an all-raw food diet is not a good idea either. "The principles
behind an all-raw food diet are not evidence based," cautions
Taggert. "People get trapped into wanting to believe the
While eating raw food as a primary
component of a diet has been around in various forms for more than a
century, raw foodism as a movement has gained momentum for about the
past decade. Its acceptance has been fueled by the embrace of
celebrities like Woody Harrelson and the culinary worldís
experimentation with raw haute cuisine. "Essentially, this diet
is raw veganism with no consumption of any animal products at
all," says Margaret Allen, an oncology dietician at Columbia St.
Maryís. "The aim is to consume Ďliving foodsí as quickly as
While adherents claim that the diet
does provide substantial improvements to their health, there are
risks, and some of the claims amount to junk science, says Allen.
"First of all, thereís a significant potential for B12 vitamin
deficiencies because you donít consume animal products," says
Allen. "Some grains are also actually toxic when eaten raw."
Likewise, raw food adherents also do
not heat their food above 118 degrees, a point that falls right in the
noted danger zone for bacteria growth. "This is not the diet that
anyone recovering from cancer should follow," says McDowell.
"Depending on the type of cancer treatment a patient is
following, he or she can be quite immune compromised, in which case itís
a good idea to avoid raw food all together to decrease the risk of
Allen also notes that adherents focus
on eating raw to consume plant enzymes. "Unfortunately, those
enzymes are no match for your stomach acid, which literally
inactivates the enzymes so you can absorb the nutrients from the
food," she says. "And the claim that the enzymes become Ďreactivatedí
in the small intestine donít make any sense at all."
Likewise, research has shown that some
important nutrients actually arenít released until the fruit or
vegetable has been cooked. "Lycopene is a perfect example of
this," she says.
An antioxidant found in tomatoes,
lycopene is thought to promote cancer reduction. "The longer you
cook a tomato, the more lycopene is released," explains Allen.
"Itís found in higher concentrations in tomato sauces and
ketchup than in a raw tomato."
Even though her diagnosis was a
surprise, Lydia Johnson says she hasnít been tempted to try
alternatives such as a raw food diet to aid in her recovery. Sheís
decided to take a more balanced approach, and one that includes the
nutrients she needs from all the food groups.
"I have a tremendous amount of
faith in the doctors at Froedtert, and my dietician, Dena," she
says. "I know the importance of eating healthy right now, and Iím
confident in my treatment. Perhaps if I find at some point that this
isnít working, then perhaps Iíll consider an alternative
treatment. But for now, I donít have fear and Iím just going to
keep doing what I can to stay healthy and do the right thing for my
|Color me healthy
While most of us know the
importance of eating fruits and vegetables, few of us do it on a
daily basis. In fact, most of us donít even come close to
eating the five to nine recommended daily servings of fruits and
vegetables per day.
So how can you do it? "I
recommend a fruit or vegetable serving at every meal," says
Dena McDowell, a clinical dietician at Froedtert Hospital.
"Instead of soda, grab a juice."
And even though theyíre Americaís
No. 1 vegetable choice, skip the french fries in favor of a side
salad or a fruit-and-yogurt parfait. "I also tell people to
look at the color of the fruits and vegetables they are
eating," McDowell says. "Then, think of the colors of
the rainbow. By the end of the day, if you can count servings
from at least three different colors, youíre on your way. The
greater the variety of colors, the different phytochemicals and
nutrients youíre getting for your body."
of the heart
Dr. Michael Earing, one of only
two formally trained adult congenital heart disease specialists
in Wisconsin, works to help patients understand their condition
and encourages them to be proactive in their health care plans.
Earing says that the number of
people living with congenital heart defects has risen due to the
increased success rates of identifying and treating those
patients. Just 50 or 60 years ago, nearly 80 percent of children
born with congenital heart defects would not survive. But today,
thanks to advancements in medical care and surgical
technologies, 90 percent of patients with the condition will
live. As a result, there are more than 1 million American adults
living with congenital heart disease.
Earing, a Medical College of
Wisconsin cardiologist who practices at Froedtert Hospital and
Childrenís Hospital of Wisconsin, says every adult patient
with a congenital heart defect is a little different. Often
adults who had procedures when they were children donít have
recollection of the surgeries or have the ability to relate
their history to the doctors. Many patients also have a poor
understanding of the process of their disease. "We almost
have to go back in time to understand what happened to them when
they were young," he says. "Often a young adult has no
idea of what his defect is. We have to start at square one
trying to teach him."
Heart surgeries done in infancy
donít always correct the defects and adults with congenital
heart defects should be evaluated continuously throughout life
to avoid serious consequences that could arise later in their
life, he says.
The Adult Congenital Heart
Disease Clinic, a collaboration of Childrenís, Froedtert and
the Medical College of Wisconsin, follows and monitors patients,
as well as "intervening when necessary to keep them
healthier in the long term. Thatís an important goal,"
By tracking the patient
throughout his life, doctors can plan a health care strategy
ahead of time.
"As we follow them longer,
weíre better able to identify problems," he says.
"Itís important to identify those problems before they
become major health issues."
Problems that might arise for an
adult with a congenital heart defect include rhythm problems,
leaky and tight valves, high blood pressure and aneurysms. There
are also noncardiac issues that can result from the defect.
"Itís much easier to plan ahead than at 2 a.m. in the ER
while looking at the patientís scars and trying to figure out
what has been done for him earlier in his life," Earing
In addition to taking care of
their own health, those who are continually monitored are
providing protocols for patients of the future. "Because itís
such a new field (adult congenital heart disease) providing care
for them allows us to develop protocols for the next generation.
This generation will help those in the future."