As you're savoring that turkey and dressing or mashed potatoes and gravy, remember: you are what you eat.
Especially when it comes to developing or fighting the No. 2 cause of death in the U.S. — cancer.
Recent studies have proved nutrition's role in developing diseases and maintaining wellness: Eat less red meat. Avoid processed foods. Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables.
But going forward, the approach may not be “one-size-fits-all.” In fact, a balanced diet could involve individually tailoring nutrition based on a person's genetic makeup.
“When it comes to what we're finding, there is a whole world of nutrition and genetics we are just beginning to understand. We are learning what you eat determines how your body or genetics will react,” said Kalli Castille, director of nutritional support and culinary at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a Southwest Regional Medical Center in Tulsa. “What you eat can literally change your DNA sequencing. I imagine that it will change cancer treatment, or any treatment.”
With the advent of faster and cheaper DNA technologies, nutrigenomics — the study of nutrition and genetics — has revealed much about how our genes interact with nutrition to affect cancer and other chronic diseases.
Health professionals have long made nutrition recommendations based on the assumption that everyone has the same nutritional requirements. But, genetic research has revealed that individuals respond differently to food and nutrients as a result of their unique genetic makeup,” Castille said.
“Researchers have begun to understand that genetic predispositions to developing certain disease may be present, however, the diseases may not actually occur,” Castille said. “Current research is looking into why this is. For example, specific food or dietary factors can lead to increased protection, while other dietary factors or foods can lead to increased risk of disease, such as cancer.”
These new findings are challenging nutritionists. With an increasing interest in naturopathic therapies coupled with an urgency to find nutrients that can genetically alter the course of cancer development, nutritionists are left to sort out what will help and what will actually harm their patients.
“There are a lot of studies around about turmeric (and cancer) and then there's information on curcumin. And there are a lot of studies on vitamin C infusions,” said Sheila Groves, oncology dietitian with Integris Cancer Institute in Oklahoma City. “But we don't know how supplements will react with radiation and chemo. We don't know if all those antioxidants will protect cells or do the opposite. Getting nutrients out of food you eat is a lot safer.”
Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa is taking an individualized approach to implementing cancer treatment with patients using a team of clinicians working with the medical oncologist. This core team consists of the physicians, registered and licensed dietitian, naturopathic physician, nursing and mind body specialist.
“Precision medicine uses genetics and genomic testing as part of the evaluation process for patient treatment (at CTCA),” Castille said. “Your individual nutrition plan will change depending on the specific treatment being provided and the individual metabolic needs of each patient.”