CLL Society is publishing this story to share and learn from another patient’s experience. It is unique to the author and is not meant as an endorsement of any particular approach to disease management and is not intended as medical advice.
I have been a CLL patient since 2008, when I was diagnosed and put on Watch and Wait. I have been very blessed as it is now 2022, and I have still not been put on treatment. One day, just before the pandemic started, I began thinking about how my diet fit into my life with CLL. I also found myself becoming depressed for no apparent reason that I could point my finger at, so I started to do some investigation and found some interesting facts that I thought I could easily try to improve my diet and curb this depression that would not abate.
The first thing I did was go to my general practitioner and ask to have a few blood tests done. I asked her for a Vitamin D, Folate, Iron, Vitamin B12, and a full thyroid panel to be done. They all came out in the normal range except for the Vitamin D, which in a way did not surprise me as I live in the Northeast, where sunshine is seasonally limited, and most foods don’t supply much in the form of Vitamin D. That one Vitamin D test showed that I was severely deficient. My GP put me on 4000 IU’s per day, and I was retested in six months. It had gone back into the normal range, and my depression also started to go away. However, studies have shown that the results of Vitamin D and depression are mixed, and you can read a short article about it here from Healthline. It worked and continues to work as I take it daily.
Next, I looked at my diet and how I could add foods that would also address depression and add more nutrients to support my body in its daily fight with CLL and other invaders. Although my diet was balanced, I began to lean toward adding more foods that contained the following:
Beta-Carotene is found in such foods as broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collards, peaches, pumpkin spinach, and sweet potato.
Vitamin C is found in blueberries, oranges, grapefruit, broccoli, kiwi, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, and tomatoes.
Vitamin E is found in foods such as nuts and seeds, oils like grapeseed oil, wheat germ.
Eating “Smart Carbs” like beans, legumes, fruit, and veggies gives your body the good carbs it needs to function its best daily.
Protein-rich foods like lean meats, tuna, and chicken or turkey help you make serotonin to keep you alert and boost your energy. They also contain Vitamin B12, which low-fat dairy also includes, and dark green veggies, which contains folate.
Selenium-rich foods help with mood; however, you should get your selenium from foods, not supplements, as selenium supplementation can cause toxicity. Foods that contain this mineral are beans and legumes, lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds, seafood, and whole grains.
The last is an essential fatty acid called Omega 3. This too can help with depression, and you will find this fatty acid in fatty fish (like salmon, tuna, and sardines), flaxseed, canola and soybean oils, walnuts, and dark green leafy vegetables.
You can read more on diet in this article from MD Anderson, Diet & Cancer Risk | MD Anderson Cancer Center. If you are interested in the topic of diet and exercise and CLL, I recommend the webinar Health and Wellness: Beyond the Medicine Cabinet.
So, I took all this information, and because I like to garden, I began to grow foods containing these nutrients to have them fresh. I start my seeds and use organic practices to grow vegetables that will thrive in the Northeast climate during the summer. I also taught myself how to preserve the vegetation that I was growing so that I could have the fresh taste and vitamins these veggies produced from the summer into the winter. I also have found that gardening is a hobby that I enjoy as it gets me outdoors and more active, and my family enjoys the end product. I have also read articles that claim it too can help with depression. WebMD has a short article and considers both gardening vegetables and flowers. How Gardening Can Improve Mental Health (webmd.com).
After adjusting my diet and continuing my exercise regime, I can say that I have more energy and my moods are much better than before I started. I will continue to make changes that I feel are needed for me, along with consultation from my doctor. However, should you decide to make any changes to your diet or exercise plan, please discuss it with your doctor first and follow their advice if they recommend any supplementation.
CLL Patient for 14 years
Diagnosed in 2008 in Watch and Wait