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November 17, 2021

Foods to Fight Symptoms of Cancer Treatment

Foods to Fight Symptoms of Cancer Treatment

One thing potentially worse than getting cancer, is being treated for cancer, as odd as that seems. But, unfortunately, cancer treatments are associated with a host of their own problems, and cause debilitating symptoms for some patients. This is especially true for cancer treatments involving chemotherapy and radiation. Fortunately, there are foods that fight symptoms of cancer treatment.

cancer treatment
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Not surprisingly, these cancer treatment fighting foods, are foods that should be consumed for general health.

First, what are the symptoms caused by treatments for cancer?

Symptoms Caused by Cancer Treatment

We are going to look at four common symptoms or issues that plaque cancer patients during their treatment. These include:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Nausea and vomiting
  3. Weakened immune system.
  4. Altered taste

Fatigue is a very common symptom associate with several treatments for cancer. Fatigue can also be caused by the cancer itself and host of other medical problems. Fatigue during cancer therapy is frequently debilitating. Cancer and cancer treatments affect appetite. Cancer patients are prone to not getting enough protein in their diets.

One study showed that a lack of protein in cancer patients contributed more to fatigue than did nausea, vomiting, poor sleep, or age. Protein is needed to maintain strength and also make hormones and other peptides necessary for optimal physiologic function.

Nausea and vomiting are common following chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Nausea and vomiting contribute to the losing of muscle mass and fatigue due poor appetite and challenged eating. The body enters a catabolic state (tissue wasting) when it does not receive proper nutrition. Plus, feeling nauseatse much of the day adversely affects quality of life and performance of activities of daily living.

Weakened immune system is the by-product of cancer treatments. The treatments are designed to kill the cancer but many times also weakened the immunes system predisposing cancer patients to infections and increasing risk of the development of other cancers. The ideal cancer treatment would kill cancer cells while leaving normal healthy cells alone. That type of targeted treatment does not yet fully exist.

Altered taste is common with cancer and cancer treatments. In fact, up to 84% patients describe some change with their palate.  It is challenging to eat well when food does not taste good. Again, not eating well contributes to fatigue and loss of lean body mass.

Foods to Fight Symptoms from Cancer Treatment

Now that we know some about the symptoms and problems caused by various cancer treatments, what can one do from a nutrition standpoint to alleviate these symptoms?

Fatigue is best combatted by increasing the protein content of meals. Nutritionally, protein is the best way to fight fatigue. Coldwater fatty fish are a great source o of protein and include salmon, sardines, trout, and mackerel. Other options include protein drinks and bone broth. Both of these are useful when appetite is diminished whether it be from the cancer or the treatment. Bone broth is high in glutamine which is essential for building muscle mass. Bone broth has the added benefit of repairing the gut lining caused by chemotherapy.

For vegans, plant-based proteins include beans, nuts, seeds, and tofu.

Nausea and vomiting can be reduce by a number of spices including turmeric, cinnamon, peppermint, and ginger. Tumeric is anti-inflammatory that we have written about in the past. Cinnamon balances blood sugar (which can fluctuate in presence of vomiting). Peppermint is an anti-nausea and anti-emetic (vomiting) spice relieving indigestion. Ginger is another anti-nausea spice readily available if the form of ginger ale.  Ginger is also an anti-inflammatory and stimulates gastric secretions which incite hunger.

weakened immune system should not be taxed any more than necessary. These means avoiding foods that may predispose to infectious agents. One with a weakened immune system should consider avoiding unpasteurized juices and dairy, raw or undercooked eggs, raw sprouts. In addition, any leftovers consumed should be re-heated.

To strengthen the immune system focus should be on foods high phytonutrient polyphenols (berries, green tea, leafy greens, garlic, citrus fruits, and onions).  Also, eat as many different colors of foods including bell peppers and beets. Beta-glucans found in mushrooms modulate the immune system as well slowing cancer growth.

The altered taste associated with cancer therapy is frequently overlooked and thus, not addressed. Fortunately, there are options to address altered taste. The following can be helpful in increasing the flavoring of food:

  1. salt
  2. citrus (lemon)
  3. fat
  4. maple syrup

How do these foods work?

Salt increases salivation because it enters the taste buds more or less waking them up. Chemotherapy causes a metallic taste in the mouth which is neutralized by lemon. Also, mint and berries can help rid the metallic taste. The addition of fat like olive oil spreads flavors across the taste buds. Alternatives to olive oil include coconut milk, cashew cream, and nut butter. Maple syrup can be used if food tastes too acidic

So, there you have it.


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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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