Study: High-fiber diet may help some melanoma patients

key takeaways

  • Research shows that a high-fiber diet supports a healthy gut and immune system.
  • Melanoma patients receiving immunotherapy for their cancer may respond better to treatment if they eat a diet high in fiber, a new study finds.
  • Most people benefit from a diet that includes many plant-based whole foods, even if they don’t have cancer.

People undergoing immunotherapy for melanoma skin cancer may have better outcomes if they eat a high-fiber diet consisting mostly of plant-based foods, a new study from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found.

These findings are consistent with previous research showing that a healthy balance of certain gut bacteria can improve immune responses in melanoma patients.

What is melanoma?

what the study found

In the new study, the researchers looked at the gut bacteria of 438 melanoma patients. Most patients had advanced cancer and were receiving systemic cancer treatment. Tumor response and survival were followed in all patients.

Of the patients in the study, 128 provided data on their dietary habits and were being treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors.

The researchers divided the patients into two groups: those who got enough fiber (at least 20 grams per day) and those who got less than 20 grams per day. Their fiber intake comes from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

Patients who didn’t get enough fiber had shorter progression-free survival than those who got enough fiber per day. For every 5g increase in daily fiber intake, a patient’s risk of melanoma progression or death was reduced by 30%.

The researchers also looked at whether taking certain supplements that may benefit the gut microbiome had any effect on patient outcomes.They concluded that taking probiotic supplements no improvement Outcomes of patients in the study.

Should you try probiotic supplements?

What is the gut microbiome?

The gut microbiome refers to all the different microorganisms that live in our gut. They play major roles in digestion, immunity and inflammation. Recent research suggests that our gut microbiome may even affect our heart health.

Jennifer Wargo, MD

A healthy balance of bacteria in our gut can alter and strengthen our immunity.

— Jennifer Wargo, MD

Having a balanced gut microbiome goes hand-in-hand with having a strong immune system, Jennifer Wargo, MD, director of the Innovative Microbiome and Translational Research Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, told VigorTip.

Flavonoid-rich foods may improve gut health

“In our bodies, we have trillions of microbes, outnumbering our cells, and many of them reside in our guts,” Wargo said. “You have the gut microbiome, and on the other hand, you have immune cells. A healthy balance of bacteria in the gut can change and enhance our immunity.”

Here’s an example of what this might mean for your health: Some studies show that taking antibiotics before getting a flu shot can lower your immune response to the vaccine.

Share “good” microbes

Fecal transplantation is the process of transferring stool from a healthy donor with a good balance of bacteria to a person who is undergoing treatment.

These grafts may help melanoma patients achieve better outcomes, Wargo said.

Another example applies to people undergoing cancer treatment. Immunotherapy for cancer helps a patient’s immune system fight cancer cells.

For cancer patients undergoing immunotherapy, a healthy digestive system supports a stronger immune system, which may lead to a better response to treatment. Gut microbes may also influence how cancer patients respond to chemotherapy and radiation, according to Wargo.

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Fiber and Gut Health

Fiber is food for bacteria in the gut. The more fiber you eat, the healthier, more diverse and active your microbiome will be.

Carrie Daniel-MacDougall, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, MPH, told VigorTip that many of the foods that your gut microbe likes are good for your body in general.

Jennifer Wargo, MD

What you eat and what you consume is important.

— Jennifer Wargo, MD

New study suggests eating avocados may help gut health

“These are the same healthy foods encouraged by the National Dietary Recommendations and targeted groups such as the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), which define dietary and lifestyle recommendations on the cancer continuum from prevention to survival,” Daniel-MacDougall said.

There are also things you can put into your body that deplete your gut microbes. For example, while antibiotics have a place in treating a variety of health conditions, studies have shown that indiscriminate use of them can affect the balance of gut bacteria.

As such, Wargo warns against overuse of antibiotics, which have the potential to cause long-term damage to the microbiome and immune system.

Eating yogurt while on antibiotics can protect your gut health

Finding the best diet for each patient

Every cancer patient has different needs. Just as one treatment may not be right for everyone, everyone’s dietary needs will vary.

“Cancer patients may have other co-morbidities or may require specific medications for guidance,” says Daniel-MacDougall, “and discuss with the clinical nutritionist and care/treatment team. Following a high-fiber diet should also include protein and other important nutrients (such as vitamins) B12 and iron) to promote immune system and recovery.”

People undergoing cancer treatment “should not take matters into their own hands” when deciding on their diet, Wargo said. In some cases, patients may not be able to safely follow a high-fiber diet.

Fortunately, most cancer care teams include a registered dietitian who can help patients figure out what diet is best for them.

Why your gut flora is important to your health

Should You Take Fiber or Probiotic Supplements?

For people who want (and can safely) increase fiber, there are other ways to do it besides eating more fiber-rich foods (mostly supplements).

However, fiber in whole foods provides a wider range of benefits than fiber in supplements. Likewise, probiotic supplements are not necessarily better at restoring beneficial gut microbes than naturally-obtained probiotics from foods like yogurt and kefir.

“Prebiotic and probiotic foods appear to behave differently than in supplement or pill form,” says Daniel-MacDougall. “Dietary supplements that typically provide specific nutrients or bacterial types in high doses should not be taken without careful discussion because they There may be unintended consequences.”

Researchers also don’t know how to predict which patients these supplements will (and won’t) help. One day, patient-specific prebiotic and probiotic supplements could be made based on an individual’s gut microbiome profile, “but they have to be rationally designed,” Wargo said.

What can the ‘Blue Poo Challenge’ tell you about your gut health?

Benefits beyond cancer

Wargo said the study’s findings could be applied more broadly: The authors argue that having a healthy gut microbiome could lead to better outcomes for patients with other types of cancer as well.

Bottom line? Don’t wait until you’re sick to start thinking about how your diet affects your health and well-being. The food you eat is in a way its own medicine. It may even help prevent some negative health outcomes.

“We can all learn something from this,” Wargo said. “What you eat and what you eat is important. I don’t think there are any substitutes. We all need to eat well.”

what does this mean to you

New research suggests that some melanoma patients may respond better to treatment if they eat a high-fiber diet that supports the gut microbiome.

However, a high-fiber diet is not for everyone. Talk to your doctor before increasing your fiber intake—especially if you’re undergoing cancer treatment.

Tips for adding more fiber to your diet