August 12, 2009

Is Eating Sugar Bad For My Cancer?

cookie-monster-diet1

During PET scans, my cells gobble up an injected glucose tracer (much like I gobbled up three pieces of blueberry pie in one sitting for breakfast last week.)  So if my cancer cells are thriving on sugar, does that mean eating sugar will encourage cancer growth?

No.  Our body chemistry isn’t that simple.  I’m bombarded by over the top and overly simplistic web comments and articles about cancer and sugar, written by folks who range from fad diet elites to total wacky freaks.  And that’s not who I trust for medical information.

Diana Ulman, founder of The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, recently told me about Rachel Beller.  She isn’t just another gal swept up by healthy eating who hung a nutrition shingle on her door.  She is a Registered Dietitian with a master’s degree and clinical experience, who makes recommendations based on evidence based scientific research – the kinda info that makes it into peer-reviewed journals.

Surfing her website, I found her article on cancer and sugar.  Here’s a great quote: “Sugar doesn’t just feed cancer cells; rather, sugar feeds ALL the cells of the body, including cancer cells. The body needs sugar to function, and if sugar is cut out of the diet, the body will then produce sugar from other sources of dietary intake, including proteins and fats. So cutting out sugar won’t really help. Cutting down may not be a bad idea because when one eats a lot of sugar, it causes the body to produce more insulin. Insulin promotes cellular growth, including cancer cellular growth. While insulin is necessary for normal healthy cells, too much of it can have undesirable effects, including increased cancer cell growth.”

Rachel suggests moderation (not so trendy, but very wise):  Increasing protein, fiber, and good fat helps the body produce less insulin while giving you good nutrition.  Eating sugar with a protein, fiber, and good fat helps your body process sugar in a healthier way.  Natural sugar is better for you, and she advises ditching soda and limiting candy and sweet treats.  Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Here’s my sugar regimen: No to pop, high fructose corn syrup, and packaged baked goods.  Yes to jumbo bags of Reese’s Pieces a couple times a year at the movies, and baking Martha Stewart and my mom’s recipes for cakes, pies, cobblers, and tarts -  I cut the sugar in half or even less and it tastes better!

Have you ever been freaked out that sugar is going to cause your cancer to grow?  Have you ever ditched sugar?  Do you feel better when you don’t eat it?

To learn more about evidence-based complementary and alternative medicince read my book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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July 31, 2009

Are you sick of people giving you “health” advice?

hear-no-evil

Here’s a great question I got from a reader living with lupus:

Dear Kairol,
A number of people are giving me well meaning but downright useless and unsolicited advice about my illness and how I should handle it – diet suggestions, names of new doctors, and how to manage my illness in the workplace.    It upsets me to the point that I’m sometimes in tears afterwards.   They are trying to help but not with what I need the most: grocery shopping, cooking or sheltering me from their germs.  How do I handle this?
Anon Me Again.

Dear Anon Me Again,
When we’re sick people feel helpless and they grasp at advice to try and make us feel better. Here are some ways to respond:

Heart to heart. If it’s coming from a valued friend, have a heart to heart talk.  Use good therapy talk like “I” statements to describe how you feel, and remind them how much you value their friendship.  Tell them how hard your disease is physically and emotionally, how personal your healthcare choices are, and how their advice makes you feel.  They may not know their comments have made you cry and if they love you, they’ll care.   Talk about the specific kinds of help you really need and how much their help would mean to you.

Elevator lines. If it’s coming from an acquaintance in casual conversation, prepare a practiced response that you say in a positive tone of voice, and then redirect the conversation to another topic. Such as: “Oh, wait – I know what you are going to say, but I actually have a great diet that works well for me.  Thanks for the idea, but I’m really cool in that department.”  Or, “Wait, I know you have some good advice for me, but I am on information overload about my disease, and I need to take an official break from thinking it.  But thanks anyway.” The more you do this the easier it becomes, and it’s very empowering.

The drama reduction program. I write about the DRP in my book Everything Changes and how great it was to rid my life of dramatic people.  Who are the people dishing out this advice?  Are they pushy, dramatic, tiresome, or bothersome in general?  If so, limit your contact or give them the axe.  Sound harsh?  As a young adult cancer patient, I only have so much energy to go around. I’m picky about who I give it to.

What is the most irritating unsolicited advice you have been given?  How do you handle situations like these?  Are you ever guilty of doing the same to others?  (Hard as I try, I know I am from time to time.)


For more details about my utterly liberating Drama Reduction Program, read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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March 23, 2009

Yoga for Cancer and Chronic Illnesses

yoga-pose

Do the words “yoga healing” conjure images of spa-like relaxation, chiming bells, and waterfalls? This nirvanic bliss may be the end result, but any proactive patient knows that even when it comes to alternative medicine and yoga, a lot of hard work goes into creating a good, safe, personal practice.

How do people living with cancer and other chronic illnesses evaluate alternative medicine practices such as yoga? What exercises and yoga postures are safe for cancer patients? What’s the difference between Ashtanga, Iyengar, Birkam, and restorative yoga, and what form of yoga is best for cancer patients? How can you find a studio that is friendly to cancer survivors? How often should you practice yoga and will it be affordable? What kinds of exercises can young adult cancer survivors do at home?

Listen tonight to the Stupid Cancer Show, at 9 PM EST when co-host Matthew Zachary and I will be talking about yoga and cancer with experts Kelly McGonicgal, Editor in Chief of The International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and Halle Tecco founder of Yoga Bear.

Have you engaged in yoga as a cancer survivor, or someone living with another kind of illness or disability? What was your experience? Was it a physical practice, spiritual practice or equal amounts of both? Did you create a regular routine of going to class or practicing at home, or was yoga more of an off and on activity for you?

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