Living With Podcast with Host Tom Coccagna

Podcasts for Cancer Thrivers Series Heading

This is the second in my series of introducing you to my favourite cancer specific podcasts. I highly recommend that you check these out! If you aren’t familiar with podcasts or how to listen on the go, check out my post about the top 10 podcasts for cancer thrivers. You can find the post HERE.

The first podcast I reviewed and recommend is The Cancer Warrior with Mel Majoros. You can read my review and listen to the episode that I was featured on here.

This second podcast review is for a podcast called Living With… with host Tom Coccagna. When I first heard Tom Coccagna speak, he reminded me of Mr. Rogers. Do you remember that children’s show? It went like this…Mr. Rogers would come into the house and change from his outside shoes to his inside ones and his light jacket to a sweater. Then he would talk to kids, have guests and do a craft.

Living WithTom’s voice brought me back to that show and I instantly felt that his voice was one I could trust. Tom is a gentle soul who has been put on this earth to help others. He is an amazing listener. I can’t stand so-called “professional interviewers” who constantly interrupt their guests. Tom doesn’t interrupt. He listens. He lets his guests tell their whole story. And the stories are amazing!

Tom interviews people who have done inspiring things as a result of their cancer. Some have written books, started charities and began donor registry drives. Despite their illnesses, these people put their heart and soul into helping others. The kind of people whose shoulders new patients stand on. They have seen where deficiencies lie and are committed to making things easier for the patients who come after them.

Tom himself lives with a form of myelodysplastic syndrome and will often share parts of his personal experience as he relates to his guest. His podcast is relatively new as it only started in February 2015, and I hope it continues. I think the stories people share on his podcast need to be heard by cancer patients and survivors because they provide hope and inspiration! I encourage you to listen!

The interview I did with Tom was released in June. You can listen to the episode on Tom’s website HERE or access the episode through iTunes HERE. This episode is the only place where I have made public the very stressful events surrounding my cancer diagnosis. Anyone who has had a cancer diagnosis on the heels of a stressful life event will relate to my story. I shared my story because I want you to realize how stress can leave your immune system vulnerable and also because I want you to know how important it is for you to love and accept yourself unconditionally.






The Cancer Warrior—Mel Majoros

Podcasts for Cancer Thrivers Series Heading

I want to introduce you to my favourite podcasts that are hosted by other cancer thrivers (just like you!). Turns out you are not alone—it is great to hear how some cancer thrivers are using their cancer as a springboard to help others. I highly recommend that you subscribe to these podcasts and become a regular listener.

The Cancer Warrior SquareThe first in this series is Mel Majoros. Mel has a top-rated blog, The Cancer Warrior and she hosts her own podcast, The Cancer Warrior on Empower Radio. Mel says a positive mental attitude got her through her cancer and she wants to share this with her listeners. And she does a great job of this!

She began her podcast in April 2013 and it is still going strong. She interviews cancer survivors and draws inspiration from their stories to share with her listeners.

Mel is definitely a team player when it comes to sharing lessons from her cancer experience, providing information and sharing her positive energy with her listeners, who I suspect are predominately cancer patients and survivors.

She is very down to earth and her style is open and honest. She is passionate about hockey and often brings up the subject. I had the opportunity to be interviewed on her podcast and we had instant rapport—I think our shared history of hockey playing had a lot to do with that!

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN to Mel and I talk about nausea, nutrition, the immune system and where my approach to cancer nutrition fits on the continuum. The episode on Mel’s podcast is called “Boosting Your Immune System with Jean LaMantia”.

Maybe some day Mel and I can hit the ice together, until then this interview will serve as our hat trick 😉

>> Here is the link to check out the podcast <<

Go have a listen! Let me know what you think of the episode in the comments section below.

If you aren’t familiar with podcasts or how to listen on the go using your smart phone, then check out my blog post about podcasting and my top 10 list for cancer thrivers! CLICK HERE to learn more!






Soy Foods and Cancer Risk

nutrients for immune function series

Throughout this Nutrients for Immune Function blog series, my goal has been to inform you about nutrition choices you can make to thrive after cancer. For me, nutrition to thrive after cancer means foods that contain nutrients that can help to boost the immune system or foods that contain nutrients that can attack cancer cells. However, sometimes this useful, action-oriented information is buried within complicated scientific research studies or the available information is contradictory! This is why I have been studying the information provided in a presentation National Cancer Institute (NCI), called Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? and giving you actionable tips that you can implement right away. No studying on your part needed! (However, you can listen to the entire presentation here if you wish!)

This is the seventh and final blog in my Nutrients for Immune Function series. If you missed reading the first six you can check them out here.

Part 1: “What Foods Boost My Immune System?”

Part 2: “Vitamin E and Your Immune System”

Part 3: “Do Low Vitamin B6 Levels Harm My Immune System?”

Part 4: “Is Fish Oil Beneficial or Detrimental?”

Part 5: “Probiotics and Prebiotics”

Part 6: “The Link Between Mushrooms and Immune Function”

The speaker for the portion of the NCI presentation covering soy foods and immune function was Dr. Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, a professor of oncology at Georgetown University.

The Soy Roller-Coaster

Soy has had an up and down relationship in the cancer community. First up because of the observational studies showing low rates of cancer in Asian women who consume large amounts of soy, then down because cell culture and nude mice studies regarding soy showed increased cancer. Then up again when observational studies on cancer survivors consuming soy showed reduced recurrence of cancer. I hope to explain the importance of this scientific history of the relationship between soy and cancer and then, I hope to enter new territory by showing you the connection between soy and the immune system. Most importantly, I want to provide you with my bottom line on soy for cancer thrivers.

Not All Soy Foods Are Soy-Full

Some soy products are made in traditional ways beginning with mature soy foods. These traditional products are tofu, soymilk, tempeh, and edamame (green immature soybeans). Western soy foods are often made from soy protein isolate and soy protein concentrates. This means that western soy foods do not have the same concentrations of soy as that of traditional soy foods that contain plant components.

What Is In Soy Foods?

Soy contains isoflavones. Isoflavones are often referred to as phytoestrogens, or in other words, plant estrogens. They are plant derived compounds with estrogenic activity. There are two main types of isoflavones—daidzein and genistein. The research presented in the NCI presentation was performed using genistein. As you can see from the chart below, different types of soy foods have different isoflavone content. Some contain more daidzein and others, more genistein.

Isoflavone (soy) content in foods

Source: Dr. Leena Hilakivi-Clarke Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? Webinar, National Cancer Institute,


This chart also shows that traditional soy foods like 1 cup of tofu has 53 mg of total isoflavones, whereas 3 links of soy sausage have only 3 mg. The isoflavone content of soy protein concentrates vary from 12-102 mg depending on their preparation method. Because of the varying levels of isoflavones in foods, researchers will tend to report the isoflavone intake and not the soy food intake. Presenting the isoflavone content helps to make the results more valid.

A High Intake of Soy Is Directly Related To A Low Incidence of Breast Cancer

The relationship between soy intake and cancer incidence is referred to as an inverse correlation. An inverse correlation means when one factor is high (soy intake) the other factor is low (breast cancer incidence). These patterns have been observed when researchers examine soy intake and breast cancer incidence in various countries around the world.

For example, in Asia, soy intake is very high, and the breast cancer incidence is very low. In contrast, in North American and Europe, soy intake is very low and breast cancer incidence is high. This inverse correlation between soy intake and breast cancer has been ruled out as a genetic one because when Asian women relocate to the U.S. their daughters and granddaughters acquire the same cancer incidence as other Americans.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Soy Foods?

These are some of the proposed health benefits of soy, which Dr. Hilakivi-Clarke outlined. All of which, she points out, remain controversial:

  • Prevention of breast cancer and recurrence
  • Promotion of cardiovascular health
  • Prevention of osteoporosis
  • Prevention of menopausal symptoms
  • Cognitive benefits
Why Is There Fear That Soy Increases Breast Cancer?

As I mentioned, genistein is one of the phytoestrogens (isoflavones) found in soy foods. The chemical structure of genistein is similar to ovarian estradiol that women produce naturally. Studies with human breast cancer cells (in culture or in nude mice) show that as concentrations of genistein are increased, the growth of human breast cancer cells also increase. This is why for years cancer patients and survivors (and the general population) were told to avoid soy foods. There was a fear that soy would increase breast cancer, despite studies showing low rates of breast cancer in Asian women who eat large amounts of soy. The good news is that in recent years, soy is no longer feared and studies have shown that it could actually be a benefit for those concerned about cancer.

High Intake In America is Very Low Intake in Asia

Observational human studies have been done to better understand soy. An observational study observes what happens when women eat their usual diets. This is different from intervention studies in which women would be randomly assigned to either a high soy or low soy diet (studies like this have not been done). The observational human studies have shown that soy intake reduces the risk of breast cancer by about 30%. In the Asian observational studies, a high intake of soy was over 20 mg per day (low intake is 5 mg per day). In Western woman, high intake of soy is only 0.8 mg per day or more (and low intake is less than 0.5 mg per day). Not surprisingly, there is no effect of ‘high’ soy intake in American women…and you can see why! American women have very low soy intake (only 0.8 mg per day, which well below the ‘low’ intake in Asian women of 5 mg per day).

Soy Consumed Throughout Life

As we see in the studies described above, the amount of soy consumed can help to explain the difference in breast cancer incidence between Asian women and American women. The other variable to consider is the time in life when soy is consumed. In Asian cuisine, soy is introduced to the diet of young children and they continue to consume soy throughout their lives. In contrast to this, women in the western world tend to introduce soy into their diet only late in life—usually when they are trying to treat their menopausal symptoms with food.

Soy Intake, Breast Cancer Patients and Survival

The observational studies give us information about incidence of breast cancer, but what about survival from breast cancer? After I looked at several studies that examined this relationship, the overall finding is that soy food intake after breast cancer diagnosis does not have a significant effect on survival. Although, one of the studies did show a reduced mortality with high intake of soy foods. The studies did agree though that there is no negative effect, in other words, there was not a reduction in survival when the patient consumed soy.

Breast Cancer Recurrence and Soy Food Intake

What about recurrence of breast cancer, does soy intake make a difference?

In this case, there is a benefit. The higher the intake of soy after a breast cancer diagnosis, the lower the risk of recurrence. This relationship was true for both Asian and Western women. However, it was pointed out by Dr. Hilakivi-Clarke the women were consuming soy before they got breast cancer.

If I Didn’t Consume Soy Before My Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Should I Start Now?

This is a common question of many western woman confronted with a breast cancer diagnosis. This question has not been investigated, so it isn’t known what the effect would be.

How Does Soy Impact My Immune System?

Genistein, one of the isoflavones in soy, has been shown to have a positive impact on the immune system. It can enhance both cytotoxic T cells and Natural Killer cells. Cytotoxic T cells and Natural Killer cells are immune cells that can attack cancer. Genistein has been shown to inhibit IL-6 and TNF alpha, which are known to promote cancer cell growth. Genistein is also anti-inflammatory. Its anti-inflammatory property is protective against cancer as inflammation can drive the cancer process.

Soy During Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy and radiation can create inflammation. This inflammation can have negative effects by impairing the effect of the treatment. The genistein in soy foods can prevent therapy-induced inflammation and stimulate anti-tumor activity. The overall effect of genistein can be an improved response to the cancer therapy.

Genistein Needs A Functioning Immune System To Fight Cancer

In order for genistein to have beneficial effects, an immune system is required. This can explain why studies that use only human breast cancer cells (in culture or in nude mice) showed that soy increased the cancer cell growth. A nude mouse doesn’t have a functioning immune system, neither do the isolated cancer cell cultures. So, genistein is not directly helping to fight cancer cells. The benefit from soy (genistein) comes from how it supports our immune systems.

What Should I Do as a Cancer Thriver?

Soy foods

Based on the information in the NCI presentation, I would recommend that you continue to include whole traditional soy foods in your diet. This would include edamame, soybeans, tofu, soymilk (made from whole soy beans) miso and tempeh among others.

How Much Soy Should I Eat?

Dr. Hilakivi-Clarke recommends 2-3 servings per day of soy foods. No studies have been done yet to shown whether fermented or non-fermented is better. Also no information on the benefit of beginning soy foods after a breast cancer diagnosis have been published. But based on the many benefits of genistein on the immune system, I would suggest that even if soy wasn’t part of your diet before your cancer, it could be a benefit. But until further research is done, this will remain an educated recommendation on my part.

Examples of Healthy Servings of Soy Foods
  1. 3 oz of tempeh—tempeh is fermented tofu and it is popular in Indonesian cuisine. If you aren’t familiar with it, I encourage you to buy a block and slice it, marinate it in an Asian dressing and grill it on your sandwich grill. It’s great in sandwiches and salads!
  1. Organic Tofu Cutlets—extra firm tofu can be sliced about ¼ inch thick and prepared like a cutlet of meat. It can be dipped in scrambled egg, then a bread crumb/ground flax seed herb mixture and pan-fried.
  1. Soy Beverage—this can be used in place of dairy. I suggest that you read the label closely to make sure you are getting an unsweetened version made from whole soy beans and not soy protein concentrate.

Note: I recommend organic soy products, because soy has been approved for genetic modification (GM). You can find out more about GM foods in my blog post, GMO or GM-No?

Want to do some additional reading on this topic?

I suggest you take a look at this resource: Oregon State University Soy Isoflavones






Soy Presentation Begins at 1:04 in the presentation: Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation


J. Nutr 140 Supplement, 2010: Soy- Exploration of the Nutrition and Health Effect of Whole soy


Warri A. et al The role of early life genistein exposures in modifying breast cancer risk.” Br. J Cancer. 2008 May 6;98(9):1485-93.

The Link Between Mushrooms and Immune Function

nutrients for immune function seriesThis blog is sixth in my Nutrients for Immune Function Series on nutrition and its impact on immune function. If you missed the previous entries in this series, I would make sure you check them out!

Part 1: “What Foods Boost My Immune System?”

Part 2: “Vitamin E and Your Immune System”

Part 3: “Do Low Vitamin B6 Levels Harm My Immune System?”

Part 4: “Is Fish Oil Beneficial or Detrimental?”

Part 5: “Probiotics and Prebiotics”

This content is based on information hosted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), called Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? You can listen to the entire presentation here (click “View this webinar” under the Meeting Materials heading).

This week I am exploring the topic of mushrooms and immune function. Susanna Cunningham-Rundles, a PhD and professor of immunology at Cornell University spoke about this topic during the NCI presentation.

mushrooms and the immune system

To give you some background, mushrooms are edible fungi (not vegetables). They have been studied for their health benefits and their bioactive components. Bioactive means biological activity or, in other words, the substance can have an effect on an organism.

The health benefits of consuming mushrooms include:

  • Weight maintenance or loss when consumed in place of high fat meats
  • Positive changes in the microbiota
  • Glucose regulation
  • Anti-inflammatory effects
  • Risk reduction for obesity, metabolic syndrome, colitis and cancer

The components of mushrooms that are bioactive (have biological activity or effect on us as organisms) are:

  • Prebiotics (see my previous blog on probiotics and prebiotics),
  • Polysaccharides such as beta glucans
  • Lovastatin
  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
  • Ergothioneine

The focus of this portion of the NCI presentation was on the beta glucan portion of mushrooms. Because of this, all the data presented used beta glucan extracts and not whole mushrooms.

Health Benefits of Beta Glucans

The studies showed that beta glucan extracts were able to reduce inflammation as measured by TNF-alpha and a decrease in nitric oxide levels. This is good news for you as a cancer thriver, as inflammation is linked to cancer.

Seven different clinical trials were highlighted that showed beneficial effects of mushroom beta-glucan extracts given along with chemotherapy. The mushroom extract either improved survival, improved immune cell response or bone marrow recovery after chemotherapy. However, it was noted that overdoses are also possible.

Meta analyses of mushroom extract have also been done. A meta analysis is a study of studies. This is done by compiling the results of several studies so that the sample size becomes larger and it gives more statistical strength to the results. Professor Cunningham-Rundles highlighted this quote from one of the studies:

“Scientific investigations and case studies from Asian medicine show that fungi have very promising pharmacological potential.”

Lindquist et al, 2013.

Bone Marrow Recovery

Myelodysplastic syndrome is a type of cancer in which blood cells do not mature properly and therefore do not become fully functioning red blood cells. Susanna Cunningham-Rundles set out to see if mushroom beta glucans could help in this disease. She found that maitake mushroom beta-glucan did show an improvement in immune response in a group of patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). However, this study has been submitted for publication but is yet unpublished).

What could this mean for you?

This is most relevant if you have myeloblastic syndrome but it could even be relevant for any cancer patient who experiences neutropenia as a result of their cancer or their treatment. Neutropenia is a common side-effect of cancer treatments, resulting in low white blood cell count. Once Cunningham-Rundles’ study is published, your doctor or pharmacist will have access to the results and be able to see if maitake mushroom beta glucan might be effective for you too.

But I eat mushrooms, not mushroom extracts

One question was nagging at me as I watched this presentation:

I don’t eat mushroom extracts, I eat mushrooms—will mushrooms help? do they provide the same benefits?

The answer to this question finally came in the Q and A section, which was asked this way:

“Is the benefit of mushroom extract equal with benefits of eating mushrooms?”

Cunningham-Rundles provided the following answer

Considering the huge power that mushrooms apparently have and considering the benefit to the microbiome, I believe those components you would not get in an extract, I would advise both

I’ll break this quote down for you. The huge power she is referring to is the totality of all the evidence that has been published on beta glucans, such as the studies discussed above that show mushroom beta glucans could improve survival. Considering the benefit to the microbiome: she didn’t get into detail in this presentation on the microbiome effects, she only listed it as one of the many proven benefits of mushrooms. But what this means is that when you consume mushrooms, there are improvements in the number and/or type of healthy bacteria that live in your intestines. We know that improving the microbiome in our intestines is a benefit for our immune system. When she says that she would advise both, she means that she recommends eating mushrooms and taking a beta-glucan supplement.

Bottom Line

So, there you have it, straight from the mouth of the immunology professor and researcher—she is advising you to eat your mushrooms.

What type of mushrooms should I eat?

All mushrooms appear to have health benefits, even the common white mushroom. But because different mushrooms have different strengths – some are better at boosting the immune system, while others are stronger anti-inflammatories and still others are better at improving the type and quantity of good bacteria in our intestines, I would suggest your hedge your bets and include a variety of mushrooms in your diet and not just eat the same type all the time.

What do these studies mean for me as a cancer thriver?

Most of the studies that Dr. Cunningham-Rundles included in her presentation were performed either on cells in a petri dish or animals. We don’t know for sure if the effect will be the same in our bodies, but I’m willing to add more mushrooms to my diet regardless. I don’t see a downside to eating more mushrooms, especially since mushrooms have other proven health benefits such as improved microbiota (healthy gut bacteria) and better blood sugar control.

Mushrooms and the immune systemI am going to choose mushrooms that are readily available in my local market; white, brown, Portobello, shiitake and oyster mushrooms. I’m going to cook them because that’s how I prefer to eat them. And when they are cooked I eat more because they shrink when they cook! So, I figure, even if an anti-inflammatory compound is lower after I cook it, I will eat more of them so that may just equalize the amount. When I see some other exotic ones like Maitake (ram’s head, sheep’s head or dancing mushrooms), I will give those a try too (although I have to admit they are kind of intimidating).

In addition, I think people who have neutropenia, either from chemotherapy or myeloblastic syndrome, could consider using a beta glucan mushroom extract. However, before doing so, I would suggest you do further research and speak with your pharmacist at your cancer centre to consider the source of the mushroom beta glucan (i.e. which species of mushroom), the proper dose and duration, and any interactions it could have with your current medication.

The seventh and final blog in my Nutrients for Immune Function Series will cover the topic of soy. Make sure you don’t miss it! If you’re not already signed up to receive Thriving After Cancer updates, including new posts on my Cancer Bites Blog, you can sign up right here on my website! Plus, you will receive your very own copy of the Immune Boosting Quick Start Guide!

Want to do some additional reading on this topic?

I suggest you take a look at these resources:

Mushrooms and Health Concerns by Mushrooms Canada

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Information on Mushrooms






Cunningham-Rundles (unpublished), Effect of MBG supplementation in MDS on immune function of neutrophil and monocytes ex vivo.

J Nutr. 2014 Jul;144(7):1128S-36S. Mushrooms and Health Summit proceedings.Feeney, MJ et al.

Food Chem. 2014 Apr 1;148:92-6. Anti-inflammatory effects of five commercially available mushroom species determined in lipopolysaccharide and interferon-γ activated murine macrophages. Gunawardena D et al.

BMC Immunol. 2009 Feb 20;10:12. The effects of whole mushrooms during inflammation. Yu S et al.

Biotech. 2012 March; 2(1): 1–15. Recent developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: a review. Seema Patel and Arun Goyal

Probiotics and Prebiotics

nutrients for immune function seriesThis blog is the fifth in my Nutrients for Immune Function Series on nutrition and its impact on immune function. If you missed the previous entries in this series, I would make sure you check them out!

Part 1: “What Foods Boost My Immune System?”

Part 2: “Vitamin E and Your Immune System”

Part 3: “Do Low Vitamin B6 Levels Harm My Immune System?”

Part 4: “Is Fish Oil Beneficial or Detrimental?”

This content is based on information hosted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), called Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? You can listen to the entire presentation here (click “View this webinar” under the Meeting Materials heading).

Today we are talking about probiotics and prebiotics and their role in supporting your immune system. Let’s get started with some important terms and definitions.

What is Probiotic?

The first important term is probiotic. A probiotic refers to live healthy bacteria that we eat. This bacteria is found in fermented foods like, yogurt, kefir, kim chi and sauerkraut. If the food is a true probiotic, then the bacteria will be live in the food in sufficient number, the bacteria will be able to survive the stomach acid and it will arrive in your intestines in sufficient quantity in order to offer a health benefit.

What is Prebiotic?

The other important food term is prebiotic. This is the healthy food that the bacteria eat. Yes, you have to feed them! In fact, there are more bacteria living in your body then there are human cells in your body. But, don’t worry, these bacteria only eat what you can’t, namely fibre. Their favourite fibres are fructooligosaccharide (FOS), which is found in chicory root (called inulin), Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions and bananas, and galactooligosaccharide (GOS), which is made by enzymatic conversion of the lactose in cow milk.

Probiotics, Prebiotics and Immune Function

The NCI webinar presentation only briefly discussed the topic of probiotics, prebiotics and immune function. The presenter basically reviewed two studies that showed the relationship between diet, gut bacteria (probiotics) and cancer. I will discuss one of those studies now.

Our Immune Function Declines as We Age

The second study dealt with the fact that as we age, our microbiota (the live bacteria or probiotics in our intestines) changes. As explained in the study, as we age, the number of putrefactive bacteria (especially Clostridium perfringens) increase, and the number of beneficial bacteria groups, (such as Eubacterium spp. and bifidobarteria), decline. The aging process also leads to a marked decline in immune function, this is called immunosenescence. The change in bacteria in the gut is thought to be one of the reasons for immunosenescence.

This decline in immune function can manifest as reduced response to vaccines and reduced number of immune cells. What we eat can influence the type and quantity of bacteria in our intestines. The researchers conducting the study set out to test if giving a prebiotic supplement would improve the immune function of healthy older adults.

Can Prebiotic Supplements Improve Immune Function in Elderly People?

Forty-four, free-living elderly people (28 women and 16 men) with an average age of 69.3 years were enrolled in the study. The study subjects were given a supplement (a galactooligosaccharide mixture called Bi2muno®), which they consumed for 10 weeks.

As I mentioned earlier, Galactooligosaccharide (GOS) is a prebiotic. This means that while it is indigestible by humans, it is a very nutritious food source for our gut bacteria. GOS is produced by enzymatic conversion from cow’s milk.

The Bi2muno® supplement had a significant effect on all bacterial groups measured. The supplement reduced number of less beneficial bacteria and increased numbers of beneficial bacteria.

In addition to the beneficial changes in gut bacteria, the natural killer cell activity was significantly improved, as well phagocytosis, after the subjects took the prebiotic supplement. A more beneficial inflammatory response was also seen—anti-inflammatory cytokines were increased and the pro-inflammatory ones were decreased. These are all beneficial responses of the immune system to the prebiotic supplement.

What’s the bottom line of these studies?

What I take from this webinar presentation and the limited number of studies (one animal and one small human study) is that supporting the microbiata (good bacteria that live in our intestines) is a good strategy for supporting the immune system. It’s important to keep in mind that as we age, there is a corresponding decline in the probiotic bacterial population, as well as our overall immune function. So, this information is especially important for seniors.

In the human study, Bi2muno® provided good results. Bi2muno® is a commercially available prebiotic supplement. Galactooligosaccharides (found in the Bi2muno® supplement) appear only to be found as a supplement or in fortified foods (mostly from Japan).

Being a dietitian, I always like to mention dietary sources as well. Fructooligosaccharide is another form of prebiotic and it is found in several foods including:

  • Chicory root (called inulin) and found fortified in some foods
  • Jerusalem Artichoke
  • Dandelion greens
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Onion
  • Asparagus
  • Wheat bran
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Bananas
The Bottom Line

My advice is to consume probiotics (yogurt, kefir, kim chi etc.) and prebiotics regularly. This means daily or several times per week. If you are interested in investigating the supplement used in this study, here is a link to the company’s website:

Interested in Further Reading?

If you are interested in learning more about probiotics and prebiotics, I suggest you take a look at these resources:

The History and Health Benefits of Fermented Food

Microbiome – The Garden Within






Cancer Res. 2014 Aug 1;74(15):4030-41.Microbiota modulate tumoral immune surveillance in lung through a γδT17 immune cell-dependent mechanism. Cheng M et al.

Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Nov;88(5):1438-46. Modulation of the fecal microflora profile and immune function by a novel trans-galactooligosaccharide mixture (B-GOS) in healthy elderly volunteers. Vulevic J et al.

Food list from

Is Fish Oil Beneficial or Detrimental?

nutrients for immune function series

This week, we continue with part 4 in my Nutrients for Immune Function Series on nutrition and its impact on immune function. We are talking about fish oil. If you missed the previous entries in this series, I would make sure you check them out! Part 1 is here. Part 2 here. And part 3 here.

This content is based on information hosted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), called Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? You can listen to the entire presentation here (click “View this webinar” under the Meeting Materials heading).

Fish oil is known as a strong anti-inflammatory. It impacts both T-cell mediated immune system and inflammation. A high intake of fish oil can result in a significant reduction in inflammation, which is a beneficial result. However, it can also cause a reduction in T-cell mediated immune function, which is a detrimental result.

This detrimental, adverse effect of a reduction in T-cell mediated immune function appears to be due to an increased antioxidant requirement with fish consumption. To test whether antioxidant supplements taken along with a fish oil supplement might prevent this adverse effect, researchers gave vitamin E at three different doses to 30 free living subjects age 65 and older.

The subjects received 100 international units (IU), 200 IU or 400 IU of vitamin E per day along with fish oil (Omega-500 TM, providing 1.5 g EPA, 1 g DHA and 5 IU vitamin E per day).

When fish oil was given with 100 IU and 200 IU of vitamin E per day, there was not an adverse effect of reduction in T-cell mediated function. In fact, there is an enhancement in T-cell mediated function!

The conclusion of the research study was that if you want to prevent the adverse effect of fish oil on T-cell mediated function, you needs to take fish oil along with 100 to 200 IU of vitamin E. The relationship between fish oil and vitamin E is called nutrient-nutrient interaction. Nutrient-nutrient interaction can explain why some research shows a benefit with fish oil supplements and others show a detriment.

The Bottom Line:

In order to receive the full benefit of fish oil consumption, you should be sure to consume adequate vitamin E. The amount that research has shown to be effective is 100-200 IU per day. This amount can be pretty easily consumed in the diet. Check out the chart below from the National Institute of Health that shows food sources of vitamin E.

Food Sources of Vitamin E

After taking a look at this research, I’m going to make sure I consume fish along with adequate amounts of vitamin E. I plan to try a recipe for wheat germ crusted salmon. Check out the recipe here. In the comments section below, let me know how the recipe turns out for you and if you enjoy it!





Do Low Vitamin B6 Levels Harm My Immune System?

nutrients for immune function series

This blog is part 3 in my Nutrients for Immune Function Series on nutrition and its impact on immune function. If you missed the first two parts, I would make sure you check them out!

You can find part 1 here.

And part 2 here.

This content is based on information hosted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), called Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? You can listen to the entire presentation here (click “View this webinar” under the Meeting Materials heading).

What is Vitamin B6?

Vitamin B6 is one of the water soluble vitamins. This means that it is found in the water component of the food we eat and not the fat or oil portion. It also means that excess B6 will be excreted in urine and not stored in our fat cells. B6 is actually seven different compounds, which have many roles in our body including metabolism and hemoglobin synthesis. If your vitamin B6 levels are too low, this can show itself as impaired glucose tolerance.

Do Low Levels of Vitamin B6 Impair My Immune System?

Vitamin B6 appears to play a role in immune function. For example, a significant portion of elderly people have low vitamin B6 levels. The elderly also have a less robust immune system. Low B6 levels have also been seen in cancer patients and low B6 levels are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. These links are being investigated to see if there is causation or just simply correlation.

Do Low Levels of Vitamin B6 Promote Inflammation?

It was observed in the Framingham heart study that participants with lower levels of vitamin B6 had higher levels of inflammation. This is important because inflammation is associated with cancer and other chronic diseases. Specifically, the Framingham heart study found that those with B6 depletion have lower levels of lymphocytes and higher levels of neutrophils. The fact that neutrophils are high indicates the presence of inflammation. In addition, this observation of lower lymphocytes and higher neutrophils is important because researchers have discovered that the ratio of Lymphocyte:Neutrophil is an important predictor of survival from cancer. So, vitamin B6 deficiency affects both sides of this ratio in a negative way—you could call this a double-whammy!

Bottom Line

Vitamin B6 appears to be important in supporting a healthy immune system.

What Should I Do As A Cancer Survivor Who Wants To Thrive After Cancer?

Aim to meet your dietary requirement for vitamin B6. Recommended amounts are included in the table below. It is pretty easy to meet your requirement by eating a mixed diet as B6 is found in a variety of foods. Getting your B6 requirement from food is the preferred source—you will also get all of the other great nutrients that are found in the food item!

Certain populations are more at risk for deficiency including the elderly, alcoholics and people with type 1 diabetes, liver disease and rheumatoid arthritis. If for some reason you are not able to meet your requirement via diet, then you could consider a supplement. The supplement could be in the form of a multivitamin, B complex or stand-alone vitamin B6. It is important to respect the dosage and remember that more is not better—the upper limit is 100 mg per day. Also, it’s important to remember that taking a supplement is not an alternative to a healthy diet. The supplement should just be considered the safety net and not the long-term solution to a healthy diet.

Vitamin B6 Requirements















This table shows you some selected dietary sources of vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 Food Sources















Achieving My Vitamin B6 Intake for the Day

Here is an example of how a person could achieve their daily vitamin B6 requirement by just selecting a few items from the list above. This isn’t a complete intake for the day, just a few selected items. As you can see, it’s pretty easy to meet or exceed the goal of 1.3 mg per day.

Selected Foods Eaten Throughout the Day

Food                                                               Vitamin B6


½ cup fortified breakfast cereal                  0.5   mg

1 banana                                                        0.4   mg


½ cup chick peas in salad at lunch              0.55 mg

Afternoon Snack

1 oz of nuts                                                    0.1   mg


3 oz of turkey at dinner                               0.4     mg

½ cup of squash at dinner                           0.2     mg

Total:                                                                         2.15   mg

Am I Getting Enough?

If you want to track your intake there are a couple of tools you can use. These require you to log your food intake and then they will provide the analysis of your intake. If you will embark on this, I suggest choosing 3 typical days to analyze.

Diet Analysis Tools

Super Tracker From the USDA

Eat Tracker from Dietitians of Canada

Stay tuned as I continue to discuss the interaction between diet and immune function. The next part in the Nutrients for Immune Function Series will be on the role of fish oil on immune function.





Vitamin E and Your Immune System

nutrients for immune function series

This blog is part 2 in my Nutrients for Immune Function Series on nutrition and its impact on immune function. If you missed reading last week’s blog, which discusses the immune system and its role in cancer protection, I would make sure you check it out! You can find part 1 here.

This content is based on information hosted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), called Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? You can listen to the entire presentation here (click “View this webinar” under the Meeting Materials heading).

The Role of Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin. It seems to play a role in immune function but its effect is not consistent. For example, elderly subjects given vitamin E supplementation will show an improvement in immune function and reduced respiratory infections. But not everyone experiences this response.

Why not?

There are two reasons that could account for this inconsistent effect. First, not everyone is deficient in vitamin E. People who will show an improvement in immune function with vitamin E supplementation are those who are low in vitamin E. Second, there is a gene-nutrition relationship with vitamin E.

The Gene-Nutrition Relationship

TNFα (Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha) can be used as an indicator of inflammation in your body. It is a cell signaling protein (cytokine) and one of its primary roles is to regulate immune cells.

TNFα has its own genes. The gene can vary by the allele that it contains – either AA, GG or AG. As it turns out, the A allele (AA or AG types) will have higher TNFα levels or in other words, more inflammation. When people who have either AA or AG alleles on their TNFα receive vitamin E supplement, they benefit from the vitamin E by a greater reduction in inflammation.

Another important point that Simin Nikbin Meydani, the scientist who presented the vitamin E data, recommends taking note of is that only the elderly benefited from the vitamin E supplementation. She is also quick to point out that vitamin E deficiency in the general public is rare. However, but vitamin E deficiency is increased in populations with fat malabsorption, which would include people with Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis or chronic diarrhea. To complete this circle of thought…those who do have a vitamin E deficiency have impaired immune function.

The Bottom Line

The National Institute of Health states that “evidence to date is insufficient to support taking vitamin E to prevent cancer. In fact, daily use of large-dose vitamin E supplements (400 IU) may increase the risk of prostate cancer.”

What should you do as a cancer survivor who wants to thrive after cancer?

If you suspect you are deficient in vitamin E, consult with your physician. You may consider taking 200 IU per day (the amount shown to have the best immune system response). In addition, everyone should include food sources of vitamin E in your diet every day. You should aim for 15 mg per day, which is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults. This chart from the National Institute of Health shows you some of the dietary sources of vitamin E.

Food Sources of Vitamin E

Stay tuned for part 3 in my Nutrients for Immune Function Series, which will explore the connection between immune function and vitamin B6.





What Foods Boost My Immune System?

nutrients for immune function series

I love to attend online trainings and I found one recently that is right up my alley when it comes to boosting my immune system and thriving after cancer. The training is called Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? You can listen to it here (click “View this webinar” under the Meeting Materials heading).

This was hosted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the moderator and presenters are all researchers in the field of nutrition and immune function. The presentation is geared towards health professionals, so you may have some challenges following it if you don’t have a science background.

If this is the case for you, don’t worry! I’ve taken the presentation and put it through my science translator apparatus and have consolidated it for you using easy to-understand terms.

I think this is a very important part of my role as the Cancer Survivors Nutrition Voice of Reason. I want cancer patients and survivors to have this information. But sometimes, the level at which it is presented may make it indigestible for you. That’s where I come in. My Cancer Bites blog and all of my Thriving After Cancer trainings and programs are designed to support cancer patients and survivors by providing them with trustworthy, easy-to-understand, actionable information.

The Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? training talked about the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B6
  • Fish oil
  • Prebiotics
  • Mushrooms
  • Soy

I plan to cover each of these nutrients in greater detail over my next several blog posts. Today, I want to start with a re-cap of the immune system and what it is. This is important foundational piece that should be understood first because I think our immune systems are a really important defense against cancer.

The immune system is comprised of two parts – the innate and the acquired. The innate immune system is what we are born with and it includes our skin and mucus membranes, which help protect us from the outside world. Our innate immune system also includes certain cellular soldiers such as neutrophils, macrophages, eosinophils , dendritic cells and the natural killer cells (these are my favourite—they have such a great name!). Here is a good video that explains the innate immune system.

The other part of our immune system—the acquired immune system—designs a specific attacker for each bacteria, virus or other pathogen that invades our body. This is a great explanation of the acquired immune system. Cells of the acquired immune system include the T cells (made in the Thymus) and B cells (made in the Bone marrow).

Once you are exposed to a virus like the flu virus or rhino virus (cold virus) your acquired immune system creates an antigen against that specific invader. And you will have this antigen in your body for the rest of your life. You might ask “Why do I get the flu more than once then?” This is because there are different viruses that cause the flu. You will only get a specific virus only once. The bad news is, you have to suffer through the effects of the flu to acquire this protection.

If you want to learn more on the immune system, there is another video I recommend you watch. You can find it here.

Your Immune System and Cancer

Your immune system doesn’t just protect you against the flu and colds. There are parts of the immune system that also protect you from cancer. Unlike invading bacteria and viruses though, cancer cells (with a couple of exceptions) are your own body’s cells, but with a defect. The exceptions are H. pylori bacteria, which are thought to be responsible for some stomach cancers and human papilloma virus (HPV), which is responsible for cervical cancer.

Have you ever heard that we all have cancer cells in our body but only some of us develop cancer? This is thought to be because the immune system keeps rogue cancer cells under control so that their numbers never get large enough to actually form a mass. However, when our immune system is overwhelmed, cancer cells can grow very rapidly and form into tumors. If this goes unchecked, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

So, keeping the immune system strong is a very good strategy for keeping cancer at bay. There are several ways to do this. I explore this topic in much greater detail in a webinar that I frequently offer to my community. You can sign up to be part of my community and you receive your own complimentary copy of my Thriving After Cancer Immune Boosting Quick Start Guide, as well as emails about my upcoming webinar presentations, blog post notifications and other updates. Sign up right here on my website or click here to sign up.

Stay tuned for my next blog where we will dig into the importance of vitamin E and the immune system for cancer survivors who want to thrive after cancer. If you aren’t already participating, I would encourage you to sign up to be part of the our community… and I will email you a notification when the next blog is live on my website!

Until then, focus on eating a healthy plant-based diet.


How to Find Support When You are Diagnosed with Cancer

Social Support

Recently, I have done quite a bit of research and study on the topic of social support. The bottom line is that social support provides direct benefits for cancer patients and survivors—it is an important part of becoming a cancer thriver!

But many of you may be feeling frustrated, scared and lonely—what do you do if you find yourself lacking support? you know you want and need support but where do you find it? I recently came across a great article from MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Cancer Wise website that addresses just this. You can find a list of suggestions and resources in the full article. CLICK HERE to go to the full article.


Thriving After Cancer Coaching and Support Community

Join a welcoming and supportive community of cancer survivors just like you where you can give and receive social support!

Click here to access the community

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