Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), or B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia, is a form of blood cancer which develops from a type of white blood cells known as B cells. This is a slow-progressing cancer that typically affects older adults. This type of cancer does not cause any visible symptoms of years while it is in its early stages. When the cancer advances, symptoms such as fatigue, night sweats, fever, and swollen lymph nodes may be observed. For people living with any type of cancer, the importance of proper nutrition cannot be stressed enough. While there are no specified dietary guidelines for people who have chronic lymphocytic leukemia, there are certain nutritional patterns that have been observed to boost energy levels and support recovery during treatment. Here’s everything you need to know about what to eat when you have chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
What To Eat When You Have Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia?
Eat Lots of Fruits and Vegetables
There is a strong association between proper and healthy nutrition and better recovery in people with cancer.(1,2,3) For many years now, researchers and medical experts have recommended the Mediterranean diet or any other plant-based diet to help people with cancer. Plant-based diets refer to an eating pattern that focuses on consuming more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. At the same time, a plant-based diet restricts the intake of red meat and focuses more on legumes and fish.(4) It is widely believed that fruits and vegetables contain huge amounts of phytochemicals and antioxidants, which are known to help protect against many types of cancer.(5)
Even the American Cancer Society recommends that you consume at least two to three cups of vegetables and fruits every day.(6) In order to get all the required vitamins, minerals, and fiber, try to include vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and kale. Remember, colorful vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, and peppers are also rich in many cancer-fighting nutrients.(7)
Avoid having Processed Foods
There is a lot of evidence to show that a high intake of processed foods, including processed meats and fast food, is lined with a higher risk of developing certain types of cancers, including breast and colon cancer.(8)
When we talk about processed meat, it refers to meat that has been treated for preserving the flavor. This may include techniques such as curing, smoking, or salting, such as ham, bacon, and hot dogs. A study in 2018 found a link between consuming a typical Western diet and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The study had 369 participants who had chronic lymphocytic leukemia and 1,605 participants who were the control group. The researchers compared the incidence of chronic lymphocytic leukemia in people who consumed one of the following diets – Prudent, Mediterranean, and Western.(9)
The Western diet included a high intake of not just processed meats, but also sugar, high-calorie drinks, refined grains, processed dairy, and fast food. The Prudent diet included a high consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and juices. The Mediterranean diet was also similar and had a high intake of fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes, olives, boiled potatoes, and vegetable oils.
The researchers discovered that the participants who followed a Western diet were more likely to have chronic lymphocytic leukemia. There are no links found between the Prudent and Mediterranean diets and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Increase the Intake of Healthy Fats
Healthy fats can be found in foods such as avocados, avocado oil, olives, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Many studies have shown an association between a high intake of olive oil and reduced risk of cancer. A meta-analysis of various epidemiological studies that were published in 2011 discovered that people who had a high intake of olive oil had a lower chance of many types of cancers as compared to those who primarily consumed butter.(10)
Additionally, it is also known that the omega-3 fatty acids present in flaxseed and fatty fish like salmon and tuna help protect against cancer. Many animal studies have established this link successfully.(11,12)
Restrict the Intake of Alcohol
Heavy intake of alcohol is known to increase the risk of many cancers, including breast cancer, cancer of the liver, mouth, and colon. For those who want to drink alcohol, the American Cancer Society recommends limiting the intake to no more than one drink in a day for women and two drinks for men.(13)
Additionally, it is essential to keep in mind that many prescription and over-the-counter medications can potentially interact with alcohol. This is why it is necessary to discuss any potential interactions with your doctor before you consume alcohol.
Drink Lots of Water
Apart from proper nutrition, it is also important that people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia remain adequately hydrated by drinking lots of water. Water is very important for their overall health, and it also helps prevent many cancer treatment-related side effects such as dry mouth and constipation.
If you have diarrhea as a side effect of your cancer treatment, you should enquire about electrolyte drinks from your doctor. Electrolytes are necessary minerals that need to be kept in balance inside the body in order for cells to function correctly.
Drink Green Tea
While there is not much research available on the exact impact of taking supplements and extracts of green tea on the progression of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, but research has found that a compound known as EGCG found in green tea extract can help decrease disease markers such as lymph node enlargement and white blood cell counts in people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.(14)
Even though more research is still needed, but in the meantime, people have found that drinking green tea or taking a supplement of green tea extract can help their symptoms. Drinking green tea also has many other health benefits, including reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease, and also helps boost your energy levels and improve physical performance.
However, do check with your doctor before taking green tea supplements as they can interfere with the functioning of your other cancer medications.
It is not possible to prevent or cure chronic lymphocytic leukemia with diet, but eating healthy can make a significant difference in how you feel during treatment and also help your recovery. A healthy diet can also improve the overall quality of life of people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Remember that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to nutrition, and what works for one person might not necessarily work for you. It is always better to take your doctor’s recommendations into account while planning out your meals. Following a diet of healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can help you manage the side effects of chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment better.
- Riboli, E., Hunt, K.J., Slimani, N., Ferrari, P., Norat, T., Fahey, M., Charrondiere, U.R., Hemon, B., Casagrande, C., Vignat, J. and Overvad, K., 2002. European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC): study populations and data collection. Public health nutrition, 5(6b), pp.1113-1124.
- Bingham, S. and Riboli, E., 2004. Diet and cancer—the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition. Nature Reviews Cancer, 4(3), pp.206-215.
- Riboli, E., 1992. Nutrition and cancer: background and rationale of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Annals of Oncology, 3(10), pp.783-791.
- Norat, T., Bingham, S., Ferrari, P., Slimani, N., Jenab, M., Mazuir, M., Overvad, K., Olsen, A., Tjønneland, A., Clavel, F. and Boutron-Ruault, M.C., 2005. Meat, fish, and colorectal cancer risk: the European Prospective Investigation into cancer and nutrition. Journal of the national cancer institute, 97(12), pp.906-916.
- What are free radicals, a., antioxidants? and cancer?, 2020. Antioxidants And Cancer Prevention. [online] National Cancer Institute. Available at: <https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/antioxidants-fact-sheet> [Accessed 29 September 2020].
- Cancer.org. 2020. It’s Easy To Add Fruits And Vegetables To Your Diet. [online] Available at: <https://www.cancer.org/healthy/eat-healthy-get-active/eat-healthy/add-fruits-and-veggies-to-your-diet.html> [Accessed 29 September 2020].
- Heber, D., 2000. Colorful cancer prevention: α-carotene, lycopene, and lung cancer.
- Grosso, G., Bella, F., Godos, J., Sciacca, S., Del Rio, D., Ray, S., Galvano, F. and Giovannucci, E.L., 2017. Possible role of diet in cancer: systematic review and multiple meta-analyses of dietary patterns, lifestyle factors, and cancer risk. Nutrition reviews, 75(6), pp.405-419.
- Solans, M., Castelló, A., Benavente, Y., Marcos-Gragera, R., Amiano, P., Gracia-Lavedan, E., Costas, L., Robles, C., Gonzalez-Barca, E., de la Banda, E. and Alonso, E., 2018. Adherence to the Western, Prudent, and Mediterranean dietary patterns and chronic lymphocytic leukemia in the MCC-Spain study. haematologica, 103(11), pp.1881-1888.
- Pelucchi, C., Bosetti, C., Negri, E., Lipworth, L. and La Vecchia, C., 2011. Olive oil and cancer risk: an update of epidemiological findings through 2010. Current pharmaceutical design, 17(8), pp.805-812.
- Donaldson, M.S., 2004. Nutrition and cancer: a review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet. Nutrition journal, 3(1), p.19.
- Rose, D.P. and Connolly, J.M., 1999. Omega-3 fatty acids as cancer chemopreventive agents. Pharmacology & therapeutics, 83(3), pp.217-244.
- alcohol? and cancer?, 2020. Alcohol And Cancer Risk Fact Sheet. [online] National Cancer Institute. Available at: <https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet> [Accessed 29 September 2020].
- Shanafelt, T.D., Call, T.G., Zent, C.S., Leis, J.F., LaPlant, B., Bowen, D.A., Roos, M., Laumann, K., Ghosh, A.K., Lesnick, C. and Lee, M.J., 2013. Phase 2 trial of daily, oral Polyphenon E in patients with asymptomatic, Rai stage 0 to II chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Cancer, 119(2), pp.363-370.