Survival rates are improving for people with cancer, so it is becoming increasingly important for doctors to make sure that their patients get through treatment with as few lingering side effects as possible, especially as many chemotherapies and radiation therapy can permanently damage the heart. On top of that, heart problems are the #2 cause of death in North Americans each year, so we most certainly don’t want our patients to survive cancer (#1 morbidity factor) to succumb to cardiovascular issues!
This being close to Valentine’s day, we thought it would be a fitting time to share some tidbits on how to protect your heart before, during, and after cancer treatment.
1) Eat a Mediterranean-style or plant-based diet. These diets have been best studied to improve overall heart health. The Mediterranean diet involves eating mostly fish and chicken with red meats 1-2x/month (for your protein), in addition to lots of nuts, seeds, and olive oil…and of course plenty of vegetables! I tell EVERYONE - aim for ½ your plate of vegetables at your main meals.
The antioxidants in the fruits and vegetables improve cell repair and positively modify cancer genes, while the healthy fibre in plants improve bowel elimination to draw unwanted substances out of the body. Also, lean proteins are building blocks to cell rebuilding and repair.
2) Exercise 180 minutes a week or as much as you can manage. For help with exercise during cancer, check out MedeXN for their cancer and fitness expertise. Other options are to look into Access4Wellness on Facebook, or to hire a personal trainer.
Exercise and good food can also improve brain fog and cancer-related fatigue. For more information on how to battle brain fog and fatigue, check out my blog post.
3) L-Carnitine is an amino acid found in food such as meat, eggs, fish and dairy and has been shown to have favourable effects for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiomyopathy, and blood sugar dysregulation. It helps to transport fatty acids into the mitochondria (main energy producers in each cell) to help fuel the cells and to prevent heart cell damage. You can take carnitine in a supplement if you’re a vegan/vegetarian (although it is animal-derived) and to achieve higher doses.
4) Cod liver oil and/or fish oil provide antioxidants and fuel for your heart cells.
5) Maintain a healthy weight to take the pressure off your heart. With extra weight on your body, the pumping of your blood becomes harder and your heart muscles gets fatigued trying to deliver blood and oxygen to all necessary tissues.
6) Manage co-morbidities, i.e. diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, to take the pressure off your heart
It can be tricky to keep on top of staying healthy during your experience with cancer. If you have any advice for people going through cancer, or are looking for some help yourself, pop on over to our Facebook Page to learn and share your experience.