Can a Vegetarian Diet Benefit Someone With an MPN?

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Topics include: Understanding and Living Well

Some patients consider switching up their diet after a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) diagnosis to optimize energy sources and eliminate unhealthy habits. Are there any health benefits for MPN patients from becoming a vegetarian? How does it affect iron levels? MPN experts, Dr. Ruben Mesa from the UT Health San Antonio Cancer Center and Julie Lanford from Cancer services discuss the effects of a vegetarian diet on a patient’s overall health and well-being. Watch now to find out the research behind ruling out meat.

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

We’re getting questions about being a vegetarian. Grant wrote in and wonders—and I’ll pose this to you, Dr. Mesa, and also to Julie—Grant wants to know, is there any benefit to being a vegan or vegetarian when you have PV? 

Dr. Mesa:               

So, it’s a good question. I’d say, in short, I don’t think that there’s any evidence to suggest that you’re better off being a vegan or a vegetarian versus having a good healthy diet.

Are you better off being a vegan or a vegetarian than kind of a general U.S. fatty, salty, fried diet? Oh, absolutely. But compared to a general diet that has appropriate meat, and fish, and eggs, and other things, I wouldn’t say that there’s necessarily a big difference. Now, with PV, there’s always the issue of iron. When we do phlebotomies, part of the reason phlebotomies help to keep the blood counts controlled, specifically the red blood cells, is by making an individual iron deficient. And medicine sometimes can alleviate that, but it’s making people iron deficient. So, if you eat a lot of iron in your diet, particularly iron supplements, you’re really working at cross-purposes. You’re taking iron out by phlebotomy, but then you’re giving iron back in by a supplement. Doesn’t make a lot of sense. The amount of iron in the normal or a healthy diet is modest enough that we have not recommended the individuals to specifically avoid meat or natural food-based sources of iron.

We’re not trying to build their iron levels up, but nor do they need to have draconian avoidance of meat or iron in their diet. But no iron supplements.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. And just so we know, Julie, was it spinach? Or what are some of the foods people often eat when they’re trying to boost their iron?

Julie Lanford:    

So, the typical foods that we think of as really high iron foods are going to be more animal-based. Clearly, liver is sort of one of the top sources. Not many people eat a lot of that. But even clams, mussels, oysters, cooked beef tend to be the things that people think of. When it comes to the plant sources of foods and iron, they’re just not absorbed as easily. And there are usually other factors that sort of inhibit the absorption of iron.

So cooked spinach is usually picked up on as well, because you know what happens when you take a lot of spinach and you cook it, and it’s like down to nothing. Well, you’re eating a lot of spinach when you eat it when it’s cooked. So, those are things that I wouldn’t be particularly concerned about, unless your doctor has said you need to pay attention to your iron sources. What I would say when it comes to vegetarian diets, vegetarians tend to have better health outcomes because of that eating pattern of having more vegetables and plant foods in their diet, which has a lot of great nutrients. I think you can eat a plant-based diet that still includes meat if you want to. You don’t have to. It’s a pretty wide range of what we would consider to be healthy eating. But you would want to make sure that you’re getting labs checked. Plus, the nice thing about going to the doctor all the time is that they do kind of stay on top of your labs, so you would pick up if you’re becoming deficient in something. 

For vegans, we focus on B12. It takes a long time to become deficient, but that can also sort of play into anemias and things. So, you would just want to keep an eye on that. I don’t promote a vegan diet, but I think if somebody wants to follow a vegan diet, I’m perfectly happy for them to do that, as long as they’re monitoring their labs.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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Page last updated on February 15, 2018