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Understanding How Nutrition Affects Carcinoid Syndrome

Knowing about nutrition can help everyone make healthier dietary decisions, but it can be especially important for people living with carcinoid syndrome. Your food choices can affect your symptoms and overall well-being.

Helping You Make Educated Decisions About Nutrition


It’s important to understand how certain types of food break down in your body and affect your symptoms, so you can make informed nutritional choices.

NET Fusion is an educational disease awareness program from Novartis Oncology designed to help patients with carcinoid syndrome better understand the science of their food and make educated dietary decisions as part of their disease management plan.

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How Does Nutrition Affect Symptoms?

During digestion, the body breaks down foods to provide nutrition, hydration, and energy. But certain types of foods and meals may trigger carcinoid syndrome symptoms, such as diarrhea and flushing, making them worse.

These food triggers can be different for each person, so understanding which specific food categories may cause symptoms can help you better identify your individual food triggers.

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Nutrition Advice You Can Use

NET Fusion can help you to better understand how the nutrition decisions you make can affect your symptoms of carcinoid syndrome and overall health. Here are some nutrition tips to help guide you in your everyday food choices.


Load up on lean protein

Protein (found in food sources such as lean meat and eggs) is an important nutrient for patients with carcinoid tumors. That's because it contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid the body needs to build other proteins and produce chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin. Carcinoid tumors use tryptophan, which can lead to a deficiency of this amino acid in people living with carcinoid syndrome. Since the body doesn't make tryptophan, you must get what you need from your diet.


Ease up on hot spices

Hot spices, including pepper, cayenne pepper and spicy mustard, contain substances that can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines, causing foods to move more quickly through the digestive tract. When this happens, food is not properly digested, and this can lead to looser stools or diarrhea.


Steer clear of foods high in fat

Foods high in fat, like baked goods and fried foods, can be problematic for patients with carcinoid syndrome. For people with gastrointestinal issues like those related to carcinoid syndrome, digestion and absorption processes are abnormal and the stomach empties too quickly. This does not allow the body to absorb the fat properly. This can lead to poor absorption of fat and nutrients, and worsen diarrhea.


Eat small meals and eat often

Large meals can overload the digestive system. They make it harder for chemicals that break down food (called enzymes) to do their job. This leads to decreased nutrient absorption and increased stress on the digestive system. Smaller meals throughout the day may help you digest your food more easily and absorb the nutrients more efficiently. Try eating 4 to 6 smaller meals a day instead of 3 large meals.


Watch your fiber intake

Fiber may help promote healthy digestion, but for people with carcinoid syndrome, certain types of fiber can make symptoms like diarrhea worse. Fiber affects how quickly or slowly food and nutrients are digested and absorbed in the body. It also affects the movement of waste products or stool through the colon. There are 2 types of fiber: insoluble (found in wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains) and soluble (found in oat bran, nuts, seeds, and some fruits and vegetables). Too much soluble fiber can cause constipation, but for people with carcinoid syndrome - soluble fibers can provide a good balance. For people with carcinoid syndrome, insoluble fibers can make diarrhea worse. People with carcinoid syndrome should be mindful of insoluble fiber.


Avoid foods high in amines

High-amine foods like alcohol, cured meats, and aged cheeses can contribute to the already high levels of amines in the body produced by carcinoid tumors. In people with carcinoid syndrome, these foods can affect blood vessels, increasing blood pressure, heart “fluttering” (palpitations), and flushing.

Try to avoid, or at least limit, foods that are high in amines.

AVOID High-amine foods

  • Aged cheeses—cheddar, stilton, camembert, etc
  • Alcohol
  • Smoked, salted, or pickled fish and meats
  • Yeast extracts, brewer’s yeast, and hydrolyzed proteins (used as flavor enhancers in some processed foods)
  • Fermented foods—tofu, miso, sauerkraut, shrimp paste, fish sauce, soy sauce

PICK Low-amine foods

  • Lean meats
  • Most vegetables (cooked)
  • Fruit (except bananas, raspberries, avocados)—in moderate amounts
  • Starchy grains (low fiber and/or cooked)
  • Unaged cheeses and dairy (low-fat mozzarella, milk, and yogurt)

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Discuss Nutrition With Your Doctor

Dietary changes are just one part of your overall disease care, so it’s important to discuss them with your doctor and health care team to determine the best approach for you.


Here's a helpful visual chart to understand how certain food groups affect the digestive system. You can print this out to share with your doctor on your next visit.


You can also watch this animated video that explains how the body breaks down food during digestion, and how certain food choices can trigger symptoms of carcinoid syndrome.


Want to learn more about nutrition?

Please visit Carcinoid Connection is an online community that helps people living with carcinoid syndrome cope with their disease and connect with other patients.

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