The Role of Diet and Lifestyle in Mesothelioma Patients

Being diagnosed with mesothelioma can feel frightening and overwhelming. With no known options for reversing mesothelioma, it becomes a battle of improving your condition and prolonging your quality of life for as long as possible. Diet and other smart lifestyle choices can have a positive impact.

Understanding Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a very rare but aggressive form of cancer that’s caused by a natural material known as asbestos. It develops when these sharp, microscopic fibers get lodged in the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen. Over time, the fiber irritates the tissue and ultimately leads to the disease. It can take as much as 20 to 50 years for mesothelioma to develop and show signs and symptoms. Unfortunately, by this point, most patients receive a prognosis of just one year or less to live.

Pleural mesothelioma makes up approximately 4 out of 5 cases. It’s caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, which used to be common in a number of building materials. The fibers cause irritation in the body’s “pleura,” which is made up of two walls of mesothelial cells.

“​​Irritation causes cellular mutation and tumors to form,” MesotheliomaGuide explains. “This results in tissue thickening and the buildup of fluid around your lungs (pleural effusion). The thickening of this lining prevents your nearby lung from fully expanding. This causes chest discomfort and painful breathing.”

Early-stage symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are, unfortunately, quite similar to other common illnesses. This means they often go undiagnosed. These symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid buildup (pleural effusions)
  • Lower back pain
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent coughing
  • Low-grade fever
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches

As you might notice, these symptoms are quite similar to pneumonia, influenza, asthma, and COPD. As symptoms worsen and patients enter stage 3 or stage 4, symptoms worsen with fever, anemia, difficulty swallowing, night sweats, and coughing up blood becoming common.

The Impact of Lifestyle Choices

We’ll get to diet in a moment, but for starters – pay attention to lifestyle habits. For example, while smoking doesn’t directly cause mesothelioma, it does make the damage caused by asbestos worse. And it will increase irritation and the risk of developing lung cancer. Smoking weakens the lungs over time and compromises your immune system, which gives your body less energy and ability to fight back.

The same goes for excessive alcohol consumption. Again, there’s no direct link between alcohol and mesothelioma, but doctors do know that excessive consumption inhibits your body’s ability to operate at peak performance.

Finally, make sure you commit to regular physical activity. This will boost your immune system, improve your lung and heart health, and reduce your risk of developing a variety of cancers, including mesothelioma. 

Diet and Mesothelioma Prevention

Recent research and anecdotal evidence suggests that certain dietary habits may be able to reduce someone’s risk of developing mesothelioma and possibly even slow the progression of the disease in individuals who already have it.

Certain nutrients are particularly important when it comes to preventing mesothelioma and other forms of cancer. Antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C, and E, are essential for protecting the body against damage from harmful molecules called free radicals, which can contribute to cancer development. These nutrients can be found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, have been shown to reduce inflammation and may also help to protect against cancer. Additionally, dietary fiber, found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, supports digestive health and may help to reduce the risk of various types of cancer, including mesothelioma.

While the medical community isn’t ready to speak directly to the link between diet and mesothelioma, we do know that diets that are high in fruits and vegetables are linked to a lower risk of numerous other types of cancer (likely due to the high presence of antioxidants in these foods). Thus, those with mesothelioma, or who fear they may have prolonged exposure to asbestos in the past, would do well to consume a Mediterranean diet that’s high in fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. 

Adding it All Up

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how much you’re willing to sacrifice in terms of diet and lifestyle choices. While there might not be any known cure for mesothelioma, there are plenty of ways to prolong your quality of life and make you more comfortable. It all starts with what you eat and the lifestyle choices you make.