When Diana Dyer of Ann Arbor, Mich., was
diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago, she asked her physician,
‘‘What can I do for myself?’’
There was a long pause.
‘‘Eat right and exercise,’’ the doctor said, adding, ‘‘Aren’t
you a dietitian?’’
It was Dyer’s turn to pause. Her knowledge was basic at best.
‘‘I knew cancer patients should eat all foods in moderation, get
five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, reduce fat in the diet to
less than 30 percent (of total daily calories) and reduce alcohol or limit
it to one drink a day,’’ said Dyer, who was a featured speaker at the
Nutrition After Cancer conference in Chicago earlier this month. The
American Institute for Cancer Research, a charitable organization,
sponsored the daylong event.
After this exchange with her oncologist, Dyer figured it was time to
find out more about how diet can positively affect cancer survivorship.
She redirected her career path, since self-publishing a book and
developing an Internet site,
She figured meals lovingly prepared would boost her energy and spirit,
even if no researcher could quantify the effect.
‘‘The first thing I did was go back to cooking,’’ she said.
‘‘I wanted to get my family out of the fast-food habit.’’
Dyer focused on which foods are most potent in the phytochemicals
(plant substances) that fight off cancer. The result is a full two-week
‘‘family tested’’ menu on her Internet site.
‘‘A slice of whole wheat bread has 800 phytochemicals,’’ she
said. ‘‘A slice of white bread has eight. I want every one of those
molecules in my body.’’
Dyer is faring quite well since 1995, which was her second breast
cancer diagnosis. Doctors first spotted breast cancer in 1984. The last
diagnosis prompted her to be more aggressive with her nutrition plan.
More than 200 people attended the downtown Chicago conference.
One-third were nutritionists, while the remainder of the group were cancer
survivors and loved ones. It was the third conference about nutrition
therapy and cancer sponsored by the American Institute for Cancer
Research, to be commended for helping break new ground in the nutrition
field. Ten years ago, any doctor promoting nutrition as therapy was
‘‘MDs used to talk about physicians who had ‘gone off to
alternative medicine’ as if they had decided to live at the bottom of
the Grand Canyon,’’ said Dr. Richard Rivlin, the conference’s
Rivlin built an inter-institutional nutrition program at Memorial
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell University. There still is
significant room for improvement, he said.
‘‘You want to guess how many U.S. medical schools require nutrition
classes? he asked the audience. ‘‘Only one-quarter.’’
For the cancer survivors in the room, Rivlin and other speakers offered
practical tips. Rivlin’s lab is showing that garlic supplements might
provide more anti-cancer agents than fresh garlic. He said carrots seem to
be better cancer fighters when steamed slightly because of ‘‘bioavailability.’’
Mark Messina, a soy researcher at Loma Linda University in California
and former National Cancer Institute leader, presented evidence that
childhood and teenage consumption of soy might protect against cancer,
even if soy intake decreases in adult years.
Another attention-getter was a study of 40 men with prostate cancer who
didn’t react well to medical treatments but experienced improvement by
adding two daily servings of soy.
Duke University researcher Wendy Demark-Wahnfried offered some educated
guesses about flaxseed.
‘‘We don’t know the exact dose of flaxseed for preventing cancer
recurrence,’’ said Demark-Wahnfried. ‘‘Three tablespoons per day
is what we are using 1/8in a new government-funded prostate-cancer study
that produced beneficial preliminary results 3/8. We arrived at this
amount because the average man gets about 14 to 15 grams of fiber in his
daily diet. Adding this much flaxseed pushes it to about 30 grams. We didn’t
want to push the upper limits of 35.’’ (That would be overdoing it.)
Flaxseed is high in omega-3 ‘‘good’’ fats associated with
protecting against cancer and heart disease. You can grind flaxseeds with
a coffee bean grinder and add them (providing a nutty flavor) to cereals,
yogurt, smoothies, puddings, juices, muffins and breads.
Flax oil is available at natural groceries and health-food stores. You
pay for convenience - seeds are inexpensive - but Demark-Wahnfriend warned
not to sacrifice nutritional value.
‘‘If you choose flax oil, make sure there is a high lignan content,’’
she said. ‘‘You will hear more about lignans yet. They can reduce
potential (cancer-causing) activity in the sex hormones.’’