News You Can Use
Designer Diets for Better Taste
For cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, even favorite foods can set off nausea and loss of appetite, leading to malnutrition and weight loss. Now researchers are trying to tackle the issue by learning more about how chemotherapy affects an individual's sense of taste and smell, and how often. They hope their findings will help patients develop personalized diets that alleviate the symptoms and restore energy.
A team from the University of Alberta in Canada followed 66 patients with advanced cancer for three days, recording what they ate and surveying changes in their sense of taste and smell. The results, published in the February issue of the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, show that 86 percent of subjects reported sensory abnormalities, with persistent bad taste in the mouth and a heightened sensitivity to odors the most common.
Many patients said they couldn't stand the smell of garbage, and some explained they could not even tolerate the odor of other people. "People have had to give up pets," says nutritionist and lead author Wendy Wismer, Ph.D.
Most subjects said they became more sensitive to bitter and sour tastes, specifically, and some lost interest in food altogether. Some even stopped liking their favorite alcoholic drink, Wismer says, and most missed the enjoyment associated with eating during celebrations such as birthday parties.
The study showed significant links between these sensory abnormalities and reduced energy intake, even long after treatment ended. And those who reported the highest number of food-related complaints, like nausea, poor appetite and early satiety, were at risk of malnutrition.
Wismer is now working on special recommendations to help cancer patients design personalized diets, emphasizing the fact that sensory changes vary between individuals. For example, she suggests eating cool or cold foods that give off fewer smells and snacking frequently. Study subjects also expressed interest in desserts, even when unable to eat other foods, so Wismer and her research team are developing smoothie and custard products that are energy dense and protein rich.
"It's really important to have some variety and keep looking for foods that you can enjoy," she says.