Lymphoma Prevention: Diet and Nutrition

As mentioned in "Lymphoma Prevention: Environmental Exposures", preventing cancer generally, and lymphoma specifically, is a very gray and uncertain area in medicine. As Dr. Julie Vose of Nebraska Medical Center University Hospital says,

"In any one patient there is usually not a known cause for the non-Hodgkin or Hodgkin lymphoma. If you don't know the cause of lymphoma, you can't say how to prevent it."

Lymphoma and Diet

This conclusion should therefore surprise no one but disappoint many: several cancers have a fairly strong link to diet. The lymphomas are not among them.

Put another way by authors of a prominent work discussed below, There is no reason to believe that [lymphoid cancers] might be affected by food, nutrition, and physical activity in the same ways [as other cancers].

The Great American Nutrition Problem

The problem with nutrition is that anyone can be a nutritionist. In the US, it is a title free of qualifiers or educational demands. In fact, the role of nutrition in culture is overly influential when set against the relative dearth of evidence to back up even the most widely accepted of claims.

Not even Medical Doctors can lay claim to knowing much more about nutrition than any other health professional. You would expect a topic this important to be part of the standard medical school cirriculum. It is not. Medical students can take it as an elective, if offered; and even then the course can seem rather short on nutritional fundamentals. For instance, check out the descriptions of the three elective courses in nutrition offered at Harvard Medical School. Hardly a complete education.

Consequently, for over two hundred years the field of nutrition has been a Mecca for quackery; we have only recently begun to hear evidence-based recommendations from experts regarding diet and nutrition, in particular as they pertain to cancer and prevention.

The WCRF/AICR Partnership

A partnership between the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has produced the mammoth and authoritative diet and cancer report Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention, a free resource that provides evidence-based recommendations regarding how to help people make healthier dietary and behavioral choices to reduce their chances of developing cancer.

The partnership also produced "Preventability of Cancer by Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Weight Management", a comprehensive, systematic overview of the peer-reviewed, published literature with a view towards offering up authoritative estimates of the preventability of cancer by means of
food, nutrition, physical activity and weight management since 1980.

Their conclusion?

"Excess body fat increases inflammation through the body and seems to affect immune function. In one study, obesity increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 36 to 59 percent in women and men, respectively. The mostly plant-based diet recommended to reduce overall cancer risk may also be helpful in reducing risk of lymphoma, though much of the evidence at this point is not strong."

The most the existing evidence will allow them to say is:

  • Vegetables and fruits are associated with decreased risk
  • Alcoholic drinks are association with decreased risk
  • Meat, total fat, body fatness are associated with increased risk
  • Milk and dairy products are associated with increased risk

The AICR maintains a well-researched, frequently updated and highly informative page on Foods That Fight Cancer. While lymphoma gets very little attention, the broader nutritional message is basic: When it comes to cancer prevention, nothing can beat fruits and vegetables coupled with some physical fitness and a smoke-free lifestyle.

Photo by John Nyboer

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