(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Thanks to advancing research, screening and treatments, the risk of cancer-related death has dropped two percent each year since 2015. But for many, the side effects of treatment remain long after they are declared cancer-free. Chronic fatigue is the most common long-term symptom among the more than 18 million cancer survivors in the United States. Researchers with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center—Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC—James) are investigating how dietary interventions could help reduce fatigue, improve diet quality and help patients live an overall better quality of life.
“Inflammation may be one of the factors that contributes to long-term, persistent fatigue. And because diet is so heavily associated with chronic inflammation, it really makes sense to investigate diet in terms of being a possible treatment for fatigue,” said Tonya Orchard, a researcher at OSUCCC—James and lead author of the study.
Dietitians met virtually with lymphoma survivors for three months, starting with small changes and swaps and introducing a new food group each week. Diet plans were personalized for patients’ food preferences and cooking ability to build habits they can stick with, integrating a range of beneficial nutrients from foods like whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetables and fatty fish.
“It’s important to find a wide range of nutrient sources that patients enjoy because it is thought that there may be a synergistic effect of the nutrient-rich foods working together that truly creates positive changes in our bodies long term,” said Anna Maria Bittoni, a registered dietitian at OSUCCC—James and coauthor of the study. “There is still much that we don’t understand about this process yet.”
Dietitians monitored patients’ fatigue symptoms and food intake through self-reported patient checklists and followed up to address any barriers or questions to ensure that each patient was empowered to continue to eat foods that help them feel their best and live life to the fullest after cancer. The pilot study was conducted in lymphoma survivors. By the end of the study, the vast majority of participants successfully met their goals for various whole-foods categories and seven out of nine reported less fatigue. Researchers hope to expand the program to all cancer survivors and, in the future, to patients suffering with fatigue associated with a range of health issues and diseases.