Dr. Elizabeth Ryan is a big fan of beans – black beans, kidney beans, Great Northern beans, pinto beans, and even rattlesnake beans. Beans, she notes, are one of the most nutritionally complete and available staple foods. Rice bran is another food that has well-known nutritional benefits but, like beans, is not widely consumed. That may change as new studies hope to show how these foods may help cancer patients improve their health outcomes through dietary interventions.
What Dr. Ryan wants to know is if these nutritional powerhouses can benefit patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy for cancer by enhancing the microflora in the intestinal track.
“We have limited understanding of what patients should or should not eat when they are undergoing cancer treatment,” said Dr. Ryan, who is an Assistant Professor with the Shipley Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “Assessing dietary intake and conducting nutritional interventions in cancer patients undergoing treatment will help us to get a better grasp on what foods are helping patients and improving intestinal health. One of the first questions cancer patients ask their doctors in what they should eat to best support their health during and after treatment.”
A study underway with the Poudre Valley Health System, and Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Center and Crops for Health program is examining what happens to intestinal microflora in cancer patients when beans or rice bran become a regular part of the diet.
Recently diagnosed colon cancer patients are being enrolled in a placebo-controlled, randomized study called the Beans/Bran Enhancing Nutritional Eating for Intestinal Health Trial (BENEFIT). As standard practice, patients undergo surgery and then wait approximately four weeks before beginning chemotherapy. During that window of time, enrolled patients will participate in the BENEFIT study, receiving meals with special bean, rice bran or non-bean/bran powders. Participants won’t know whether or not they are getting the bean powder or rice bran. Bacteria that reside in the feces and intestinal tract of colon cancer patients will be collected and examined during surgery, and fecal bacteria will be assessed again during the dietary intervention and prior to the start of chemotherapy.
Nutritionists at the Colorado State University Nutrition Center are assisting in developing and preparing the bean powder, rice bran and accompanying recipes. Rodent and canine studies are also being launched as a part of the overall study. Dr. Ryan is working with Archer Daniels Midland Company, Edible Bean Specialties Group, and the United States Department of Agriculture to supply the bean powders and rice bran. The Cancer Supercluster at Colorado State University and the Shipley Foundation are providing funds for these pilot studies.
“Little is known of microflora in the intestinal track of colon cancer patients, and so we want to see if beans and/or rice bran will modify the microflora,” said Dr. Ryan. “Existing studies show that there is lower species diversity and differences in the ratios of certain phyla in lean versus obese individuals. Given this relationship between diversity and health, we hypothesize there may be a link between increasing species diversity and reducing the risk of cancer recurrence. We want to understand how the types of foods patients eat during and after treatment impact their health outcomes in the longer term.”