Importance of Diet and Nutrition for Stem Cell Transplant Patients
Choose Your Diet With Care During Myeloma
If you have myeloma, dietary changes can help protect your immune system and your bones.
By Eric Metcalf, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
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Having multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that affects cells that help fight infection, can require changes in your diet. Choosing the right foods and supplements can help you better cope with myeloma symptoms.
Patients with myeloma tend to fall into three general diet categories, says Kristen Trukova, RD, LDN, who often works with patients with the disease at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Ill.
- Patients who are eating poorly.Side effects of medications, such as bortezomib (Velcade), a drug often used to treat myeloma, can include nausea and vomiting, Trukova says. As a result, some patients have difficulty eating. A diet too low in protein or calories, however, "is probably the biggest barrier we know to immune function," she says. Since one myeloma symptom is a greater risk of infection, you want to keep your body's defenses, the immune system, as strong as possible.
- Patients at high risk of infection.When blood tests show that patients' white blood cells are low, they typically need to go on a neutropenic, or "low-bacteria," diet, Trukova says. This type of diet is intended to keep you away from foods that may contain germs that can make you sick, such as raw fruits and vegetables.
- Patients who feel like eating.When patients are free of these myeloma symptoms and have a good appetite, Trukova urges them to eat five to nine servings of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables each day, as well as plenty of fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, containing omega-3 fats that fight inflammation. Patients should stay away from diets that are high in saturated fat, eating no more than four 4-ounce servings of red meat weekly and limiting the consumption of full-fat dairy products. Populations eating a lot of saturated fat have a higher risk of cancer, she notes.
Diet can also be used to offset specific myeloma symptoms. For instance, certain foods can strengthen bones weakened by the disease and other foods may need to be avoided if myeloma is causing kidney problems. The following steps will help you address these issues.
Cope With Myeloma Symptoms Through Changes in Your Diet
- Choose bland foods.If myeloma symptoms or treatments have you sick to your stomach, include bland foods in your diet. These include baked chicken, baked fish, steamed rice, and cooked vegetables, Trukova says. Go easy on spicy or fried foods.
- Eat well for your bones.A diet rich in foods with calcium and vitamin D, such as low-fat yogurt, skim milk, and cheese made with part skim milk, is good for your bones, which can become weak from multiple myeloma. Vitamin D is also important for a strong immune system. Your doctor may recommend that you take supplements of these nutrients, Trukova says. However, having too much calcium in the blood can be a myeloma symptom, so don't take a calcium supplement without first discussing it with your doctor.
- Consider a low-bacteria diet.If your immune system is working poorly, you may need to avoid fresh fruits and vegetables, which can contain germs that your body cannot combat. Instead, choose roasted vegetables, as well as canned fruits and vegetables, Trukova suggests.
- Maintain a healthy diet.If you're not suffering from nausea and have no other diet restrictions, then eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, and a limited amount of red meat for overall good health, Trukova notes.
- Watch your kidneys.Although getting enough protein is important, you may need to cut down on protein-containing foods, including meat and dairy products, if your kidneys become too damaged from myeloma, she says. Discuss your kidney function with your doctor to determine how much protein you can safely eat.
Eating well is an important first step in your fight against multiple myeloma. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist about what you can do to maximize your nutrition.
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