One of the more challenging aspects of undergoing chemotherapy is minimizing and/or alleviating the multitude of side effects that can develop over the course of treatment, such as mouth sores and gastrointestinal distress. While there are medications your doctor can prescribe to help with these issues, you can treat a number of problems just by making adjustments in your dietary habits. Here are three nutrition tips that can help reduce the negative impact of chemotherapy.
Eat More Stool-Binding Foods
Chemotherapy works by destroying fast-growing cells. While that makes it effective against certain types of cancers, it can cause and aggravate gastrointestinal issues because the medication also kills beneficial cells found in your intestinal lining. One consequence of this destruction is you may develop chronic diarrhea.
In addition to limiting your mobility, diarrhea can cause you to become dehydrated, leading to other medical problems. Thus, it's critical to get the problem under control as soon as possible, and one way to do that is to eat stool-binding foods. These are foods that help solidify stools by adding bulk, which can slow diarrhea or stop it altogether.
Classic stool-binding foods include rice, bananas, applesauce, and toast. However, any bland low-fiber, low-fat food can help, such as rice cakes or crackers, yogurt, green beans, and turkey.
To avoid aggravating your diarrhea, avoid eating spicy, greasy, fatty, and fried foods that can cause loose stools. Most especially, though, don't eat foods that contain a lot of fiber. Although fiber is generally healthy for you, it can worsen diarrhea by constantly stimulating the colon to make bowel movements. Caffeinated and sugary foods do the same thing, so you'll want to keep those out of your diet until your condition improves.
Eat Smaller Meals More Frequently
Another common side effect of chemotherapy is loss of appetite. This can be due to a number of reasons related to the cocktail of drugs coursing through your body, but sometimes you just won't feel like eating. However, eating regularly is important to maintaining your energy and strength, and not eating may even make the side effects of the chemotherapy worse because your blood sugar levels will be unbalanced.
Instead of trying to force yourself to eat three large meals a day, eat smaller meals more often. Psychologically, eating a smaller meal (e.g. toast and fruit) won't feel as daunting as trying to consume a plate full of food. Physically, this strategy will help you maintain a steady stream of energy by keeping your blood sugar levels stable.
Since the chemotherapy may dampen the normal biological cues that indicate you're hungry, one trick to ensuring you're eating on a regular basis is to put reminders on your phone or medical-alert device to consume a meal at set times every day. This way, you won't inadvertently starve and weaken yourself by forgetting to eat.
Consume Tart Foods
Dry mouth is a third common side effect of chemotherapy. The medication can impair the function of salivary glands, causing them to produce less moisture and making you feel like you've been chewing on cotton balls all day.
A good way to prevent and alleviate this issue is to eat and drink tart foods, such as lemonade, oranges, and sour candies. The tartness stimulates the salivary glands into producing saliva, so your mouth remains moist. Sweet foods can also produce the same result, but too much sugar can cause other problems, especially if you're diabetic.
There are a number of other dietary changes you can make to help alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider for suggestions as well as to ensure the foods you consume and the tactics you take are safe for you. For more information about chemotherapy and other cancer treatment options, contact a treatment center.