Leukemia is a form of cancer that affects blood cells. People who have leukemia may benefit from a diet containing certain foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Leukemia and its treatments can have a major impact on the body. People who have leukemia may benefit from a diet containing certain foods.

Read on to learn more about what foods are beneficial for people with leukemia and which foods to avoid.

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There is no ideal diet for a person who has leukemia. But the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) states that healthy eating is good for:

  • helping the body to replace blood and tissue cells damaged during cancer treatment
  • supporting the immune system
  • helping the person keep or regain their strength
  • reducing the risk of complications

The LLS recommends a diet for people who have leukemia should include:

  • a variety of vegetables and legumes, which should make up around 50% of most meals
  • whole fruits, such as apples or blueberries
  • grains, at least half of which should be whole grains
  • fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • low-fat protein sources, such as chicken, fish, and soy
  • healthy oil, such as olive or canola oil
  • water, tea, or coffee

Cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are part of the Brassica genus. They include:

  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • bok choy
  • kale

A study from 2014 suggests that cruciferous vegetables may be beneficial to people with leukemia. Researchers found that compounds in cruciferous vegetables, such as sulforaphane, could slow the spread of certain types of leukemia.

But they found that the amount of sulforaphane necessary to affect leukemia was more than a person would be able to ingest from food alone. Additionally, researchers conducted the study on samples outside the human body. Further research is necessary to determine whether sulforaphane is helpful in treating leukemia in humans.

Neutropenic diet

Cancer treatments can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Neutropenia is a condition that occurs when a person has too few neutrophils, a type of white blood cell for fighting infections. Low neutrophil levels increase the risk of infections.

Neutropenia is a common side effect of chemotherapy, a type of cancer treatment. A doctor may recommend the neutropenic diet for someone who has neutropenia. A neutropenic diet involves avoiding certain foods to reduce exposure to bacteria, such as:

  • raw or undercooked meat
  • raw or undercooked seafood and shellfish, including sushi and sashimi
  • unpasteurized drinks, such as fruit juice, milk, or raw milk yogurt
  • soft cheese made from unpasteurized milk
  • uncooked or unpasteurized egg, and foods that contain it
  • refrigerated pâté or deli meats, such as dry-cured uncooked salami
  • raw sprouts, such as alfalfa sprouts
  • unwashed fruit and vegetables
  • food from buffets or salad bars
  • well water

Some doctors may recommend the neutropenic diet for people who are undergoing leukemia treatment. But the LLC states that is no evidence that a neutropenic diet is helpful for people with leukemia. They recommend that people take care to prepare food safely rather than restricting certain food groups.

It is important to remember that different diets will work for different people’s needs. A person should follow their doctor’s advice on diet and nutrition during cancer treatment.

Certain supplements can interact with the medications that treat leukemia, such as:

  • St John’s wort: St John’s wort is a supplement that some people use for treating depression. It can reduce the effectiveness of imatinib, which is useful for treating chronic myeloid leukemia and Philadelphia-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
  • Green tea: Some people use green tea supplements for weight loss and reducing digestive symptoms. Green tea supplements can reduce the effects of bortezomib, a drug for treating acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Treatments for leukemia can cause side effects, including:

  • mouth ulcers
  • diarrhea
  • hair loss
  • rash
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • neuropathy, which is a type of nerve damage

People may want to avoid foods that can aggravate the side effects of leukemia treatment, such as:

  • foods high in fiber or sugar
  • greasy, fatty, or fried food
  • very hot or very cold food
  • milk products
  • alcohol
  • spicy foods
  • caffeine
  • apple juice
  • food sweetened with xylitol or sorbitol
  • foods that can hurt the mouth, such as those that are crunchy, sour, or salty
  • citrus fruits
  • tomatoes and ketchup

It is important that people do not rely on food, supplements, or vitamins to treat their leukemia.

Having a suppressed immune system due to leukemia can increase a person’s risk of infection. The LLS recommends the following guidelines to ensure food safety:

  • keeping hands, surfaces, and kitchen items clean
  • washing dishtowels and sponges regularly
  • rinsing fruits and vegetables before consuming
  • cutting away any bruised or damaged parts of fruits and vegetables
  • removing outside leaves on heads of cabbage and lettuce
  • using separate cutting boards, dishes, and utensils when preparing raw or cooked meat
  • avoiding rinsing raw meat before cooking
  • thawing frozen items in a refrigerator or microwave rather than leaving them on a counter
  • marinating food in the refrigerator
  • using a food thermometer to make sure meat is fully cooked
  • ensuring food is cooked all the way through before eating

People who have leukemia should always speak with their doctor before changing their diet. Making sudden dietary changes may affect health and well-being. If a person has any concerns about certain foods, they should speak with their doctor.

Nutritionists recommend a moderate and balanced diet for leukemia. There are no foods that can treat or cure leukemia, but some can help with side effects and reduce the risk of complications.

People undergoing treatment for leukemia should avoid certain supplements, such as St John’s wort. Additionally, various foods can aggravate the side effects of leukemia treatment, such as spicy or fatty foods. People should speak with their doctor if they have any concerns about certain foods.

When preparing and storing food, people with leukemia should be careful to follow food safety guidelines. This can reduce their likelihood of developing an illness or infection.