Henrik Ennart

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Cancer treatment, common medications and the food we eat

What an exciting impact my recent article series (in a swedish paper) had! The series was about correlations between food and cancer and got thousands of shares not to mention that several of those I interviewed ended up in TV interviews in the following days!. Pretty cool!

It’s about time for some debate on this issue! After talking with doctors, nurses, researchers, patients and dieticians, there’s no doubt that everybody only means well.  What separates them, is their perspectives. Doctors focus often on the short term and on the patients who are the worst. For patients with severe weight loss or nausea and vomiting, it can be about life or death and the need to supply their bodies with enough nutrition. So if it only works with juice or ice cream and nothing else, then serve juice and ice cream for heaven’s sake!

But not all patients have such difficult symptoms, and for those who may have undergone a breast or prostate cancer surgery that very same ice cream and juice or cold ham sandwich could almost be considered offensive.

A research group at Sahlgrenska who has surveyed how Sweden’s cancer clinics work with this issue have concluded that “the advice to avoid fiber should no longer be given”. Partly because good food reduces the risk of a new cancer later in life, and partly because radiation therapy can quite often cause chronic intestinal problems which, according to a new study, appear to be reduced among those who early on ate most fiber.

It seems that the emergency diets for those with the worst symptoms in many places have become the standard diet offered to everyone. Not how it should be obviously and many in health care are working to push the recently updated recommendations from the World Cancer Research Fund, WCRF, who says that anyone who does not suffer from weight loss or eating problems should be advised to follow WCRF dietary advice, which are for example to eat fiber rich foods and avoid sugary drinks.

However, the links between food and health care has more dimensions than this. Some might have noted the report that was published last spring, which showed that common drugs affect our intestinal bacteria.

In work with my and Niklas Ekstedt’s new book Happy Food 2.0  I called Peer Bork, research director at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany. It was his team who did the study and went through 923 common drugs which were not antibiotics and discovered that 250 of them killed or affected in other ways the bacterial species that inhabit a healthy intestinal flora.

He thought the results were alarming.

– It is highly probable that the effect is actually much greater. We only measured the effect on 40 of the approximate one thousand bacteria most common in the intestine. The doses we gave correspond to those given on a regular basis, says Peer Bork.

This is the first time this question has been investigated. Until now, no one has the slightest idea that many of our most common drugs affect our intestinal bacteria. Peer Bork emphasizes that it is difficult to determine so far whether the effect in individual cases is good or bad. Occasionally, the effects on the intestinal bacteria may be a part of the positive effects of the drugs and sometimes something that causes side effects.

– This is the first time this is being investigated and I am convinced that it will be of great significance. In future, a doctor will need to consider how the drug affects the patient’s individual intestinal flora, “says Peer Bork.

Henrik Ennart together with Niklas Ekstedt is the author of the recently published book Happy Food 2.0. Currently only available in Swedish however you can get their first book Happy Food in english on amazon here.

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