Suffering from the side effects of cancer treatment is the most dreadful experience for every cancer patient. Common side effects include anorexia, pain, poor appetite, fatigue, constipation, unintentional weight loss due to loss of appetite and malabsorption, and skin dermatitis, to name a few. Below, I listed some of my favorite integrative tools and nutritional interventions I apply for my cancer clients to help them mitigate these side effects.
Many tools are beneficial to help cancer patients improve their appetite. Here are some of my go-to's: bitter tincture, ginger, thiamine, gentian root, catnip, fennel, American ginseng, and zinc citrate.
Here, I’d like to emphasize thiamine’s connection with weight loss. Thiamine deficiency is a common cause of Beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, but its link to weight loss is not common knowledge. Clinical studies have demonstrated that thiamine deficiency could cause anorexia and weight loss, and thiamine supplementation can help restore appetite and recover body weight loss (Liu et al., 2014).
I often also advise my clients to eat frequent small meals, learn how to avoid and control odors from cooking, apply acupuncture, and implement tolerable physical activities.
Regarding coping with fatigue induced by cancer treatments, a crucial aspect that I think about immediately is implementing an aerobic exercise regimen at a well-tolerated level. The patient should be encouraged to start even before cancer therapies. Please click here to read another article I published regarding how exercise and body weight can affect cancer care outcomes.
Some of the nutritional supplements can also be very helpful, such as American ginseng, Siberian and Panax ginseng, medicinal mushroom extract (such as Reishi, cordyceps, and shitake), omega-3 fish oil, chlorella or wheatgrass juice for chlorophyll, and herbs such as Rhodiola, astragalus, ashwagandha, nettles, etc. Studies have shown that polysaccharides (PSK) in medicinal mushrooms may enhance immune function, reduce disease and treatment-induced symptoms, improve survival-ship, and have the potential to be safely administered along with standard cancer treatments or after the treatment (Fritz et al., 2015).
Many clinical tools can be used to resolve constipation, including improving hydrations status, ensuring the intake of sufficient soluble fiber, consuming foods such as prunes and aloe vera juice, and taking nutritional supplements with ingredients such as magnesium in oxide or citrate form, vitamin C to bowel tolerance, Triphala herb extract, prunes, ginger extract, 5-HTP, probiotics, etc.
Among these options, my go-to is magnesium-containing products. It’s been well-established that magnesium is effective for treating constipation. Based on my observation of my client population, it’s one of the safest and most effective ways to produce results quickly (Rao & Brenner, 2021). Moreover, it provides many other health benefits for many body functions related to muscle, mitochondria, brain, heart, etc.
Dermatitis is a common complication of radiotherapy. Topical melatonin has been studied and shown to be a safe and effective therapy for preventing and treating radio-dermatitis. Recent studies have shown that melatonin’s biological functions go beyond promoting sleep quality. It is also a potent anti-inflammatory agent and an antioxidant. Applying topical melatonin may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the irradiated local area, delay the onset of dermatitis, decrease the intensity of skin damage, and speed up the healing process. The caution here is to avoid the product with oil-based ingredients (Zetner et al., 2023).
Jenny Noland, MS, CNS, CNGS, CKNS, LDN, MBA
Functional Nutritionist in Eugene, Oregon
Board-Certified Nutrition Specialist
Board-Certified Nutritional Genomics Specialist
Board-Certified Ketogenic Nutrition Specialist
Certified Oncology Nutrition Specialist
Personalized Nutrition Therapy for Metabolic Dysfunction and Cancer Care
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Fritz, H., Kennedy, D. A., Ishii, M., Fergusson, D., Fernandes, R., Cooley, K., & Seely, D. (2015). Polysaccharide K and Coriolus versicolor Extracts for Lung Cancer: A Systematic Review. Integrative Cancer Therapies, 14(3), 201–211. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534735415572883/ASSET/IMAGES/LARGE/10.1177_1534735415572883-FIG1.JPEG
Liu, M., Alimov, A. P., Wang, H., Frank, J. A., Katz, W., Xu, M., Ke, Z. J., & Luo, J. (2014). Thiamine Deficiency Induces Anorexia by Inhibiting Hypothalamic AMPK. Neuroscience, 267, 102. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.NEUROSCIENCE.2014.02.033
Rao, S. S. C., & Brenner, D. M. (2021). Efficacy and Safety of Over-the-Counter Therapies for Chronic Constipation: An Updated Systematic Review. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 116(6), 1156–1181. https://doi.org/10.14309/AJG.0000000000001222
Zetner, D., Kamby, C., Christophersen, C., Gülen, S., Paulsen, C. B., Piga, E., Hoffmeyer, B., Mahmood, F., & Rosenberg, J. (2023). Effect of melatonin cream on acute radiation dermatitis in patients with primary breast cancer: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Pineal Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpi.12873