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Good nutrition is key during a breast cancer diagnosis

“If breast cancer seems ubiquitous these days, it’s because it basically is,” says Dr Caroline Hoffman, Clinical and Research Director, Breast Cancer Haven. “One in eight women will receive a diagnosis in their lifetime. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – an international campaign designed to raise awareness of breast cancer and funds for research and treatment. This October, around 5,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Treatment takes a huge physical toll and eating well can often slip off the radar. It’s time-consuming to buy and cook everything while nausea brought on by chemotherapy can make food unpalatable. But nutrition has a huge impact on our immune system, our mood, our hormonal function and our energy levels.”

So, how can we get it right? “At Breast Cancer Haven, we recommend some basic principles as a guideline, although individual needs may differ,” says Dr Hoffman. “Stick to a fresh and colourful range of mainly veg and some fruit to make up around half of your diet to get the different antioxidants. Protein should be included with each meal but limit red meat to twice a week. Oily fish, pulses and dairy are also great sources. Organic food is healthier for us and the planet especially (but not only) meat and dairy products. If this is not possible, the fresher the better. When it comes to carbohydrates, try to stick to whole grains as refined carbs can worsen fatigue. Healthy fats can easily come from sources like nuts and seeds. Finally, remember to stay hydrated, especially during medical treatment. We do not recommend that you drink alcohol during your treatment. It causes dehydration, hot flushes and can influence oestrogen levels, particularly in post-menopausal women.”

Vitamin D deficiency linked with increased risk of death

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked with a significantly increased risk of death, particularly in younger and middle-aged people, new research has found.

The researchers, from the Medical University of Vienna, examined data from 78,581 patients who had their vitamin D levels measured between 1991 and 2011. Participants with a vitamin D level of less than 50 nmol/L were deemed to be deficient. The researchers defined a high level of vitamin D to be 90 nmol/L, whereas 10 nmol/L was considered to be a low level.

The researchers then compared these results with the Austrian national death register to see how many participants died in a 20-year follow up period. The data showed that there were 11,877 deaths in that time.

The study found vitamin D levels of 10 nmol/L or less were linked with a two- to three-fold increase in risk of death of any cause. This link was particularly strong for patients aged between 45 and 60, who had a 2.9 times increased risk. High levels of vitamin D (90 nmol/L or more), were linked with a 30 to 40 per cent reduced risk in all-cause mortality. Again the link was strongest for those aged between 45 and 60, who showed a 40 per cent reduction in risk.

The researchers commented: “Our findings strengthen the rationale for widespread vitamin D supplementation to prevent premature mortality.”

Health benefits revealed for vitamin D and omega-3

New findings have revealed health benefits associated with taking vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. A total of 25,871 people took part in the five-year clinical trial conducted by US researchers. Some of the participants were given either vitamin D or fish oil; others were given both and the remaining participants took neither supplement. The results showed that omega-3 supplementation was linked with a lower risk of heart attacks. The study participants ate an average of 1.5 servings of fish per week, and those who ate less than the average seemed to benefit most from the supplement. Meanwhile, vitamin D supplementation was linked with a lower risk of dying of cancer in people of a normal weight – or a BMI of 18.5 to 25. The findings were presented at the 30th Annual Meeting of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

Berries may help to heal wounds

New research has revealed that berries may help to heal wounds. The research, published in the journal of Food Research International, analysed the anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties of strawberries and blackberries. The scientists found that blackberries were particularly good at helping to suppress reactive oxygen species (molecules that are produced when tissues are injured). Berry proanthocyanidins – the very compounds that give berries their red, blue, or purple colours – also appeared to reduce the need for nitric oxide synthesis, a compound involved in wound repair. Dr Emma Derbyshire, Public Health Nutritionist and adviser to British Summer Fruits commented: “This new research has some very interesting findings which suggest that berries are helping to take the pressure off some of our innate wound repair mechanisms. Ongoing research in the form of in vivo human studies are now needed.”

Pumpkins aren’t just for halloween

With Halloween approaching on 31 October, many of us will be busy carving pumpkins. But did you know that these are actually highly nutritious vegetables that could add real value to your diet? Nutritionist Lily Soutter (www.lilysoutternutrition.com) lists some of their health benefits:

  • Fighting colds and infections
    The bright orange hue of the pumpkin comes from a phytochemical called beta-carotene. Beta-carotene turns into vitamin A within the body and plays a key role in supporting a healthy immune system.
  • Supporting vision
    Eyesight diminishes with age, but fortunately by fuelling our body with the right nutrients we can lower the risk of sight loss. Pumpkin’s rich content of vitamin A supports healthy vision, but it’s also rich in plant compounds including lutein and zeaxanthin which are associated with a reduce risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
  • Enabling glowing skin
      Vitamin A is a key nutrient required for supporting the daily replacement of skin cells and is critical for the formation of healthy skin. Its precursor beta-carotene is an antioxidant found in abundance in pumpkins and has been shown to play a role in protecting skin cells from sun damage, which is critical for the prevention of ageing skin.
  • Promoting heart health
    It’s not just pumpkin flesh that is highly nutritious – pumpkin seeds are also a top source of magnesium, fibre and healthy polyunsaturated fats. All of these components play a role in maintaining healthy blood pressure and supporting a healthy heart.

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