Areas of Expertise:
Nutrition Science, symptom science, cancer-related fatigue, cancer survivorship, mitochondria, circadian rhythm
The BIG Idea:
People undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments for cancer endure a large symptom burden, including fatigue, cognitive impairment (“chemobrain”), pain, and gastrointestinal issues. What’s worse, is that these symptoms can persist long after the cancer has been treated. These symptoms sometimes prevent people from returning to work, family roles, hobbies, and other activities that define who they are. People do not want drugs, which have side effects, to treat the side effects of cancer drugs. Thus, I design and test nutritional programs to help address these symptoms and help people return to life “before cancer.” These programs include both *what* people are eating (e.g., Mediterranean Diet) and *when* people are eating (e.g., time-restricted eating).
Why does the research matter?
We still do not understand the underlying mechanisms of cancer-related fatigue and other related symptoms. Because we don’t understand why the symptoms occur, i.e., what is happening on the molecular level, it makes it difficult to discover preventive agents and treatments for these ailments. With each of our studies, we are helping to understand how cancer-related fatigue is associated with mitochondrial function, gene expression, circadian rhythm, and other processes, as well as how nutrition is affecting these processes, too. That way, we can optimize our nutritional programs to confer the greatest benefits.
Who does the research matter to?
My research matters for patients with cancer and their caregivers, as well as oncology clinicians. Despite widespread dietary recommendations and supplements for patients with cancer in the media, there are very few evidence-based dietary guidelines. We are helping to define what dietary patterns are best during and after treatment so that people can tolerate treatment and heal from the experience as fast as possible.
What are the clinical applications of the research?
Our research thus far suggests that following a Mediterranean Diet during cancer treatment will lessen symptom burden, especially for people whose diets were further from the Mediterranean Diet before their diagnosis. We are also gathering data to test our hypothesis that chemotherapy and/or radiation disrupts circadian rhythm and contributes to fatigue, and time-restricted eating can help restore circadian rhythm and reduce fatigue. Our future goals are to thoroughly evaluate these hypotheses so that nutritional recommendations can be incorporated into oncology clinical guidelines.