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Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects to Improve Your Dietary Intake

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If you are among the 650,000 people in the United States who experience chemotherapy each year, you are probably no stranger to the side effects it can bring. From extreme tiredness to digestive upset, the unwanted secondary effects of this cancer treatment can have an adverse impact on your dietary intake and increase your risk of malnutrition. Eating well during chemotherapy is not easy, but you can take steps to manage your symptoms to give yourself the best chance of meeting your nutritional needs, which can positively influence your treatment outcome.

1. Fighting fatigue

If you feel wiped out during chemotherapy, you may not have the energy to do a grocery shop or prepare meals. Getting enough rest by prioritizing activities and asking for help from relatives, friends, and neighbors can help you conserve your energy.

Additionally, although it may seem counterintuitive, doing gentle exercises may help reduce tiredness. Your healthcare team can give you advice on suitable activities to try.

Eating and drinking well is also essential to maintaining your energy levels, but when you feel drained, a well-stocked store cupboard and freezer can ensure there is always something at hand if you can’t get to the shops or you don’t feel like cooking. For instance, options like sandwiches, chunky soups, baked beans on toast, macaroni cheese, or a ready-prepared meal are still nutritious.

2. Coping with nausea and vomiting

Whether feelings of nausea last for a few hours or several days, you are unlikely to feel like eating, particularly if your nausea is accompanied by vomiting.

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Anti-sickness drugs, called antiemetics, offer relief from both symptoms, but you can also adjust your eating and drinking habits to minimize them. For instance, eating little and often, eating and drinking slowly, and keeping drinks to outside of mealtimes can all help.

You may find that avoiding foods high in fat and sugar, while favoring those that are dry or do not require cooking, can also offer symptom relief. Ginger has antiemetic properties, so having items like ginger tea, ginger ale, ginger biscuits, or stem ginger is another possible way to relieve nausea.

Taking cool, clear drinks, as well as sucking ice cubes or mints, are further ideas to manage feeling nauseous.

3. Dealing with poor appetite

If you find that you can’t eat much at a time, try having small meals with snacks in between. While snacks like chips and candy are OK from time to time, try to keep snacks as nourishing as possible. Yogurt, cheese with crackers, nuts, a small sandwich, or a small bowl of cereal are all good options. You may also find that trying different foods, taking a short walk before a meal, and eating with company can all boost your food intake.

4. Relieving constipation

Constipation can have a negative effect on your appetite. Your doctor may prescribe a laxative if you struggle to relieve your bowels regularly, but there are some steps you can try yourself to aid digestive transit. For example, drinking plenty, especially warm fluids, helps your stools stay soft.

Including fiber-rich foods with every meal, such as fruits, vegetables, whole-wheat bread, and cereals, can help you keep regular, as can gentle daily exercise.

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5. Managing diarrhea

As the cells lining your intestines rapidly divide, chemotherapy attacks these cells, which causes diarrhea. After discussing your symptoms with your doctor, he or she may recommend an anti-diarrheal medication, but dietary changes may also offer symptom relief. Avoiding fatty, spicy, or fibrous foods, as well as tea and coffee, may help.

Some people also find that milk worsens their diarrhea, so limit milk if this is applicable. Meanwhile, keep up your fluids to prevent dehydration. Clear fluids, such as water, fruit teas, broth, and flat carbonated drinks are best.

6. Alleviating a sore mouth

Chemotherapy also inadvertently targets the cells of your mouth, causing irritation and sores. Good oral hygiene is essential to manage mouth problems, and your doctor may give you medication to ease the pain and aid healing of your mouth ulcers.

To make eating easier when you have a sore mouth, avoid warm foods and those that are acidic, salty, spicy, or rough. Soft foods are gentler on your mouth, and for a time you may want to purée foods to make them smoother. Alternatively, add moisture to dry foods with a sauce, gravy, or margarine.

If your mouth is also dry, drink plenty fluids and chew sugar-free gum.

7. Don’t worry about weight gain

Although many people lose weight during chemotherapy, some drugs can cause weight gain. If you find yourself gaining weight, it is tempting to restrict what you eat, but eating a balanced diet with sufficient calories is essential during chemotherapy to help your body fight the cancer and protect your body from the rigors of treatment.

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8. Improving your weakened immune system

You may be ignoring their health effects, but lemon and extra virgin olive oil can be your natural allies when it comes to fighting cancer and cancer side effects.

Lemon (citrus) is a fruit that has been found to inhibit cancer cell proliferation. One of its most interesting virtues is the effect it produces on cysts and tumors.

Lemon doesn’t only inhibit cancer cell proliferation, but also has many antifungal properties as it’s been proven to effectively treat oral thrush (a frequent complication of HIV infection).

Likewise, good quality extra-virgin olive oil contains many health-relevant chemicals or phytochemicals known for their ability to trigger cancer cell death.

Try this juice recipe:

Cut a lemon in quarters. Put the pieces in a blender. Add a cup of water and one tablespoon of extra virgin organic olive oil. Blend well and serve to drink on a daily basis. You can sweeten your drink with a few tablespoons of orange juice.

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Featured photo credit: googleusercontent via lh3.googleusercontent.com

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