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  • Writer's pictureLori Drummond

Nourishing the Body: How Nutrition Supports Colon Cancer Survivors - by Lori Drummond, RD


Lori Drummond, registered dietitian at The After Cancer, talks about the importance of nutrition in colon cancer survivorship.

Lori Drummond is a Registered Dietitian at The After Cancer


Surviving cancer is a journey


Surviving any cancer -- including colon cancer -- is a journey marked by perseverance, resilience, strength, and the unwavering determination to overcome one of life's greatest challenges. 


While medical treatments play a vital role in battling this disease, the journey toward recovery extends far beyond the hospital or clinic walls. Nutrition plays a crucial role in supporting colon cancer survivors as they rebuild their health and vitality during conventional therapies and beyond. 


Nutrition plays a crucial role


It’s recommended that all cancer patients undergo nutritional screening to ensure that those likely to experience unwanted weight loss are identified and can be directed toward and guided by a nutrition professional such as a dietitian or nutritionist with advanced practice training in oncology. 


The journey through colon cancer treatment can take a toll on the body, impacting everything from appetite to digestion. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery can all affect the body's ability to absorb nutrients and maintain optimal health. Common side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite can further complicate nutritional intake, making it challenging for survivors to meet their body's needs.


To bridge the gap during the transition phase which is immediately after treatment to the predisposition phase (surveillance stage), it remains important for a survivor to continue to eat well, get those essential nutrients, and optimize health with the right nutrition – to stay on track for the long run. 


It’s so vital that it should be considered a life-long commitment or simply a permanent lifestyle change. This will rebuild strength and stamina but also support the body's immune system and promote overall well-being including good mental health while reducing the risk of recurrence. 


How nutrition intervention supports colon cancer


Here are some important ways in which nutrition intervention supports colon cancer:


Supporting Digestive Health:  

Survivors might experience changes in digestion or in bowel habits.  Consuming a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains – all providing fiber -- can help improve digestion and restore bowel regularity, and potentially prevent complications such as constipation or diarrhea.


Boosting Immune Function:

Assuring a diet that provides sufficient vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients can help strengthen the immune system, which is essential for fighting infections.  Eating the colors of the rainbow including foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, red or purple berries, orange citrus fruit, and nuts and seeds are loaded with immune-boosting nutrients that play a critical role in the body’s defense mechanisms. 


Maintaining Healthy Weight:

Obesity is a well-known risk factor associated with the development of many cancers. Therefore, recommendations are to work toward a healthy weight.  On the other hand, if weight loss during treatment results in becoming underweight, the goal is to obtain a healthy weight for your body height and type. That’s where a personalized plan created together with a nutrition professional is so important. Incorporating physical activity, if able, of 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise is recommended, or staying as physically

active as your situation allows. 


Reducing Inflammation:

Chronic inflammation has been linked to an increased risk of cancer recurrence and other health issues. Consuming a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can calm inflammation. These foods include herbs, spices, and healthy fats such as found in cold-water fish and olives. Others include a variety of fruits and vegetables while avoiding processed or fast food and sugar-laden beverages. 


Promoting Emotional Well-Being:  

We all know that eating isn’t only about physical health, it’s an emotional and social experience. Preparing and sharing nutritious meals with loved ones can provide enjoyment, comfort, connection, and a sense of normalcy following a challenging and stressful time. Certain foods such as dark chocolate and leafy greens have been shown to support mood and mental health. This is equally so, as all these foods mentioned above support a healthy microbiome which has been shown to improve mood. All this to help survivors cope with the emotional toll of their cancer journey. 


Nutrition-related recommendations for colon cancer survivors should provide personalized healthy nutrition-related guidance that includes specific measures that can help manage or prevent co-morbid conditions commonly present in cancer survivors. Seeking support from healthcare professionals, survivors can optimize their health and well-being in numerous ways as they embark on the journey toward a brighter, healthier future.


 

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