Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects plasma cells, which are a part of your immune system. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 30,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2016.
If you have multiple myeloma, the side effects of chemotherapy may cause you to lose your appetite and skip meals. Feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or scared about the condition can also make it hard for you to eat.
Maintaining good nutrition is important, especially while you’re undergoing treatment. Multiple myeloma can leave you with damaged kidneys, reduced immunity, and anemia. Some simple diet tips can help you feel better and give you the strength to fight back.
Anemia, or a low red blood cell count, is a common complication in people with multiple myeloma. When cancerous plasma cells in your blood multiply, there isn’t enough room for your red blood cells. Essentially the cancer cells crowd out and destroy the healthy ones. A low red blood cell count can cause a variety of problems, including:
- feeling cold
Low levels of iron in your blood can also cause anemia. If you’ve developed anemia because of multiple myeloma, your doctor may suggest that you eat more foods containing iron. A boost in iron levels can help you feel less tired and will also help your body make more healthy red blood cells.
Good sources of iron include:
- lean red meat
- bell peppers
- brussel sprouts
- sweet potatoes
- tropical fruits, such as mango, papaya, pineapple, and guava
Multiple myeloma also causes kidney disease in some people. As the cancer crowds out healthy blood cells, it can cause a breakdown of bone. This is important because your bones release calcium into your blood. Cancerous plasma cells can also make a protein that goes into your bloodstream.
Your kidneys need to work harder than normal to process the extra protein and extra calcium in your body. All this extra work can cause your kidneys to become damaged.
Depending on how well your kidneys are functioning, you may need to adjust your diet to protect your kidneys. You might need to cut back on the amount of salt, alcohol, protein, and potassium you eat.
The amount of water and other fluids you drink may have to be restricted if your kidneys are severely damaged. You may need to eat less calcium if your blood-calcium levels are high because portions of your bone are destroyed from the cancer. Ask your doctor before making any dietary changes due to kidney disease.
You have a higher risk of infection while you’re being treated for multiple myeloma. This is because your immune system is compromised by both cancer and chemotherapy treatment. Washing your hands often and staying away from people who are sick can help keep you from catching colds and other viruses.
Reduce your risk of infection even more by avoiding raw foods. Undercooked meat, sushi, and raw eggs can carry bacteria that can make you sick even when your immune system is perfectly healthy.
When your immunity is reduced, even fruits and veggies that haven't been peeled can pose a risk to your health. Cooking your food to the minimum recommended internal temperatures kills any bacteria that may be present and can prevent you from having a food-borne illness.
Some chemotherapy drugs can cause constipation. Increase your fiber intake and drink plenty of water. Foods that are high in fiber include:
- whole grains such as oatmeal and brown rice
- dried fruits such as raisins, figs, apricots, prunes
- apples, pears, and oranges
- nuts, beans, and lentils
- broccoli, carrots, and artichokes
One study showed that the supplement curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric, may reduce your risk of becoming resistant to certain chemotherapy drugs. This helps ensure the chemotherapy drugs are an effective treatment option.
Research on mice also suggests that curcumin may slow the growth of multiple myeloma cells.
Many people suffer from nausea and vomiting as a side effect of chemotherapy. Bland foods may be easier on your stomach, but if you can handle meals with a little more spice, try a curry made with turmeric. Mustard and some types of cheese also contain turmeric.
Having multiple myeloma is a challenge for anyone. But eating a healthy diet can help you live better with this kind of cancer. Your body needs nutritious fuel to stay strong, whether you have complications such as anemia or kidney disease.
Cut back on processed snacks and sweets. Instead fill your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Along with therapy and medication, the vitamins and minerals you eat during this time can help your body heal.