Experts keen to dispel myth of ‘cancer-busting diets’

Fiona Roulston, dietitian manager at St Luke's Radiation Oncology Network.

The Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute have joined forces to dispel the myths about the role of nutrition in cancer prevention and treatment.

The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) recently upheld a complaint made by INDI about a website claiming that a ketogenic diet (very low carbohydrates) is a therapy for cancer.

Ketogenic diets have grown in popularity in recent years, often through celebrity endorsement. Because they are low in carbohydrates, the body is put into ketosis so that it burns fats.

The Irish Cancer Society supported INDI’s complaint, pointing out that there is no medical evidence that a ketogenic diet had an anticancer effect.

INDI, the professional organisation for dietitians in Ireland with more than 700 members, is concerned that misinformation on what cancer patients should eat can have devastating consequences: “This misinformation about nutrition in cancer is rife, and it can be misleading and contradictory. In Ireland, the only regulated professionals who can offer clinical dietetic advice are CORU-registered dietitians.” (CORU is Ireland’s multi-profession health regulator)

Last night INDI and the Irish Cancer Society hosted a public talk in Dublin to separate the facts and fiction about diet and cancer.

One of the speakers, Fiona Roulston, dietitian manager at St Luke’s Radiation Oncology Network in Dublin, said the modern preoccupation with lifestyle matters is being fed by unregulated social media personalities: “This has generated an enormous volume of misinformation and myths. This, in turn, can negatively impact overall health and undermine enormous strides that medicine has made in improving cancer outcome.”

Ms Roulston said their advice to patients is to avoid very restrictive diets during treatment because it is important that they maintain their body weight, particularly their muscle mass: “Usually, when we explain the lack of evidence behind the more extreme diets patients are willing to look at different options. But if a patient really wants to follow a particular diet, we will try and keep the lines of communication open and reach a compromise. We want them to know that our door is always open.”

Ms Roulston said it Is understandable that a patient with a cancer diagnosis would consider anything that might make them better: “Their diet is something that they feel they can control so they are willing to try anything and that can be a real challenge.”

Ms Roulston, there are no “fancy fad diets” that she would recommend, but sometimes that is what people look for. “As dieticians, our goal is not to treat the cancer — our goal is to maintain the person so that they can withstand their cancer treatment. We want to keep them strong.”


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