Eating well

Everyone is aware of the saying ‘you are what you eat’ and for patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) it is vitally important to pay attention to pursuing as healthy a diet as possible as good nutrition can help to prevent clots.

Dr Maria L. Collazo-Clavell of the Mayo Clinic MD (Medical Doctor) contributed these nutrition tips for people with MPDs.  Dr Collazo-Clavell is an endocrinologist with the Mayo Clinic.

We all need good nutrition to keep our health at its best; food is our body’s basic fuel.  “Our food choices can improve our health or increase our health risks”, says Dr Collazo-Clavell.

Why eating right is so important

It’s true that changing what we eat won’t reduce our platelet or red cell counts. But eating right is essential for several reasons:

Reduce risks: Maintaining a normal body weight and a healthy body composition can reduce the risk of clots in all people, including those with MPNs.

Deliver vital nutrients: Staying lean helps our heart pump blood throughout our bodies and deliver vital nutrients to our tissues.

Prevent double-trouble: Good nutrition prevents other diseases that increase the risk of clots, such as atherosclerosis and diabetes. These disorders are double-trouble when you have an MPN.

Two kinds of clots

There are two kinds of clots that concern us as MPN patients and as patients we want to reduce the risk of both kinds of clots.

Arterial clots include for example heart attacks and strokes. High amounts of body fat (lipids) and high cholesterol contribute to arterial clots.

Venous clots (in the veins) include deep vein thrombosis (DVTs) Venal clots can be related to body weight and activity levels.

Good nutrition prevents problems

Some diseases that are often associated with growing older have nothing to do with MPNs except that they compound the risks we face as people with MPNs. Good nutrition goes a long way toward preventing common diseases that increase our risk of clots, including:

Atherosclerosis a long-term illness that causes our arteries to harden and develop deposits (plaques) that can break off and cause heart attacks and other clots.

Diabetes is an illness often caused by being overweight, and this condition also increases the risk of clots.

These disorders prevent blood from reaching vital organs, and add to the “blood stickiness” problems that we have as people with MPNs. The good news is that these problems, unlike MPNs, are preventable. For detailed information on good nutrition and how to maintain a healthy weight, please visit the NHS Health Living page (UK) or the Mayo Clinic (US).

What to eat

The first step in any nutrition programme is always to have a frank talk with your GP or primary care doctor.  Your doctor can give you tips to help build the right nutrition plan for your personal situation.  Most adults benefit by following these tips:

Add micronutrients: Eat more fruit and vegetables to provide you with the protective micronutrients that you need.

Control cholesterol: Reduce your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in your diet and increase “good” HDL cholesterol.  Lower your consumption of animal products such as red meat, whole milk, cheese and butter.  Choose fish, lean cuts of meat or poultry, fat-free dairy products and olive oil.

Choose whole foods: Choose whole grains in modest portions. Reduce consumption of white flour, sugar and processed foods.

Be alert to what you are drinking: Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and reduce consumption of caffeinated drinks and alcohol if necessary.

If needed, reduce salt: If you’ve suffered a heart attack or if you have high blood pressure, you may also need to reduce consumption of salt.  Be careful with processed foods as these often contain high levels of sodium.

If you are losing weight

If you have myelofibrosis (MF) or another MPN and are losing weight, or if you are undergoing active chemotherapy treatment, you may need to eat more food to sustain your weight. Please talk with your care team if this is your situation.

How one MPN patient’s diet changes have dramatically improved her life

Louise, diagnosed in 2005 with polycythaemia vera (PV) found that due to a combination of factors she hit a very difficult and low quality of life in 2011. Determined to fight back she underwent radical changes in her diet which have resulted in a return to amazingly better health and vitality. 

Louise shares that, ‘At the point of deciding to change my diet I was feeling so ghastly. Malaise, headaches, nausea, searing stabbing pains in my legs, constant pins and needles in my feet and hands, tinnitus in my right ear.  I felt like committing suicide!’ Adding, ‘I’m a hardy old boot and not the suicidal type. All this on top of that tedious PV symptom, fatigue.’  At such a low point, a friend suggested that Louise tried an elimination diet rather than going back to the GP for yet more drugs for a urinary infection.

Louise continues, ‘For six weeks I only ate organic rice, fruit, vegetables and organic lamb, drinking water and naturally caffeine free tea; (the withdrawal symptoms over four days from caffeine were horrendous!).
Within two weeks I was feeling like a new woman.  My headaches, nausea and malaise went, the stabbing pains much reduced, and oddly, the MPN fatigue reduced too.  Over the following six months I began to introduce other organic foods into my diet, and found that I felt better than I had for years and all the symptoms disappeared, including fatigue.’

For her current regime, Louise says, ‘If I can, I avoid all non organic meat and fish or in the case of fish, I eat varieties line caught in open waters.  I never ever eat chicken unless organic and even then am careful and prefer chicken from a local soil association accredited farm, others make me very unwell.  I never touch dairy produce with the exception of the occasional small amount of organic butter.  I don’t consume alcohol, processed or tinned foods, drinks or caffeine, including decaffeinated products which are chemically treated.  I never consume non organic sugar whether white or brown, or rock or table salt, only pure sea salt. 

 Quite a lot of non organic vegetables and fruits are OK, but I now avoid non organic potatoes, onions, peppers, celery, mushrooms, butternut squash and beetroot, and non organic apples, pears, plums, grapes, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.  Thick skinned fruits are fine although I’m careful with mangoes and watermelons depending on the country of origin.  I was amazed to see a lot of the above are listed as to be avoided by the Penny Brohn Cancer Care website, almost two years after I’d come to this conclusion myself. I’ve never been a great devotee of organic food until now, regarding it as overpriced and unnecessary. How I’ve changed my tune!’

For more ideas on healthy eating visit: or