There is no special diet plan for PV, but eating foods that help manage a person’s weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure and limiting foods high in fat, sodium, sugar, purines, and oxalates can help lower the risk of some complications.

Polycythemia vera (PV) is a myeloproliferative disorder, a type of cancer that causes the body to produce too many red blood cells. These red blood cells can clump together, causing the blood to flow too slowly.

This can result in complications such as blood clots, which can completely block blood flow within a blood vessel, causing a stroke or even death.

PV is a chronic condition that currently does not have a cure. While dietary changes will not cure PV, eating a nutritious diet can help a person manage their weight and their cholesterol and blood pressure levels, all of which can help reduce the risk of complications.

There are also certain foods that a person with PV should limit or avoid to help lower the risk of blood clots and other complications.

There is no single special diet for PV, but people with this condition should generally try to eat a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Doing so can help manage cardiovascular risk factors that can worsen complications.

Additionally, since inflammation plays a key role in the development and progression of PV, incorporating foods that reduce inflammation in the body might help manage the condition.

These eating habits are similar to the recommended diet set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

What are the benefits of diet for PV?

Some people with PV may develop complications due to thickened blood and reduced blood flow, such as:

  • blood clots (thrombosis), which can cause a pulmonary embolism, stroke, or heart attack
  • kidney stones, which are small, hard deposits that form in the kidneys
  • gout, which is inflammation of the joints due to a buildup of uric acid
  • stomach ulcers, which are open sores on the lining of the gastrointestinal tract
  • bleeding and easy bruising
  • an enlarged liver or spleen

A well-balanced diet for PV can help lower a person’s risk of complications by:

  • helping manage cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which may help reduce the risk of blood clots
  • improving circulation
  • reducing inflammation in the body
  • preventing the buildup of uric acid

A doctor or a registered dietitian can provide advice on an overall nutrition plan. Many people with PV will benefit from incorporating more of the following foods into their diet:

  • fruits such as apples, oranges, and bananas
  • vegetables such as leafy greens, red peppers, and broccoli
  • lean proteins such as poultry, eggs, nuts, and fish
  • whole grains such as quinoa, oats, millet, brown rice, and barley
  • low fat milk, yogurt, and cheese

Since PV thickens the blood, drinking enough water is also essential to reduce the possibility of kidney stones and gout caused by a buildup of uric acid.

In general, people with PV can benefit from limiting or avoiding foods that can contribute to the development of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.

A person with PV should try to limit foods that are high in oxalates, as these can contribute to the development of kidney stones. Foods high in oxalates include:

  • spinach
  • peanuts
  • almonds
  • rhubarb
  • beets
  • sweet potato
  • soy products

People may also need to limit their intake of foods high in purines, as they can contribute to the development of gout. Foods high in purines include:

  • red meat
  • organ meats such as liver, kidney, tongue, and sweetbreads
  • some seafood, including shellfish, anchovies, and sardines
  • alcohol

Additionally, limiting consumption of the following food groups can help manage PV symptoms and prevent complications:

  • saturated fats such as butter, palm and coconut oils, cheese, heavy cream, and red meat
  • trans fats, which are sometimes found in highly processed foods
  • foods high in sodium, such as convenience foods, salty snacks, and processed meats
  • added sugars from sugary soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit juices, and desserts, as research suggests that high sugar intake is associated with an increased risk of PV
  • foods containing oxalates
  • foods containing purines
  • foods that can irritate a stomach ulcer, such as alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, and spicy foods

Though not a dietary factor, smoking can also have a strong negative effect on PV because it damages blood vessels and can raise a person’s blood pressure. For people who smoke, quitting is crucial to help lower the risk of PV complications.

A specific diet plan for heart and circulatory health can be beneficial for those with PV. These diets provide guidelines to help incorporate healthy eating patterns into a person’s daily routine.

A person with PV might benefit from diets such as the following, which emphasize eating fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains:

Mediterranean diet

This eating plan includes foods traditionally consumed in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as France, Spain, Greece, and Italy. It is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and heart-healthy fats such as olive oil.

The Mediterranean diet is generally low in animal products and meat but includes fish and seafood. Some research, including a small 2022 study, suggests that this type of diet has the potential to reduce symptoms in people with PV.

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute developed the DASH diet to help lower high blood pressure. The diet focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, and lean meats and limiting intake of sodium, fat, and alcohol. In general, this diet recommends consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

Anti-inflammatory diet

This way of eating focuses on foods with the potential to reduce inflammation in the body. An anti-inflammatory diet incorporates fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, dark chocolate, tea, legumes, and red wine (in moderation).

Treatment for PV aims to improve blood flow and reduce the number of excess blood cells.

Dietary changes will not cure the condition but can play an important role in lowering the risk of complications. Limiting consumption of highly processed foods and consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains may help manage inflammation and lower the risk of blood clots.