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 24,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2014.
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.
However, getting 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 may help you feel better and give you the strength you need to fight back.
Anemia, or low red blood cell count, is a common complication in people with multiple myeloma. When the cancerous plasma cells in your blood marrow multiply, there isn’t enough room for your red blood cells. The cancer cells crowd out and destroy the healthy cells. A low red blood cell count can cause a variety of problems, including fatigue, weakness, and 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 it also helps your body make more healthy red blood cells.
Good sources of iron include:
- lean red meat
- bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- sweet potatoes
- and broccoli
- 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 breakdown of your bone, which releases calcium into your blood. Also, the cancerous plasma cells make a protein that enters into your bloodstream.
Your kidneys need to work harder than normal to process the extra protein and calcium in your body, which can damage them. 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 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 has been weakened by both cancer and chemotherapy treatment. Washing your hands often and staying away from family and friends 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 may carry bacteria that can make you sick even when your immune system is perfectly healthy. When your immunity is reduced, however, 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 may prevent you from having a food-borne illness (food poisoning).
Some chemotherapy drugs can cause constipation. Diet tips to prevent and treat constipation while you’re being treated for multiple myeloma are fairly simple. 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 (raisins, figs, apricots, prunes)
- apples, pears, and oranges
- nuts, beans, and lentils
- broccoli, carrots, and artichokes
A study from the journal Annals of Hematology shows that curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric, may reduce your risk of becoming resistant to certain chemotherapy drugs. Drug resistance means that the medication is less effective or not at all effective.
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 the compound.
Multiple myeloma is a challenge for sure, but eating a healthy diet can help you live better with cancer. Your body needs nutritious fuel to stay strong, whether or not you have complications such as anemia or kidney disease. Cut back on processed snacks and sweets, and 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.