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Helping Your Body Heal: Nutritional Planning During Cancer Treatment

RKMD Blog February 3, 2018
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According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Management (CDC), more than 650,000 Americans undergo chemotherapy outpatient treatments every year.  While participating in cancer treatment, there are many physiological changes that can impact the quality of nutrition, and the tolerance for previously enjoyed healthy foods.

Individuals who are receiving cancer therapies, can experience the following side-effects:

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sustained Fatigue
  • Dryness of the mouth
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Reduction in Appetite
  • Changes in taste perception
  • Olfactory issues (sense of smell)

The aspects of chemotherapy treatment, can significantly weaken the natural immune system, and present increased risks for secondary viral or bacterial infections.   Achieving a healthy and balanced diet during therapies, is critically important, but also difficult given some of the obstacles and changes that occur.

Taste Sensory and Appetite Changes During Chemotherapy

According to resources provided online, by the American Cancer Society®, the sense of smell and taste are radically changed for individuals who are receiving cancer treatments.  Why is that a problem?  Because your body’s first appetite cue, comes from the nose.  We smell our snacks and foods, and that information is carried through the nose to the brain, to register whether it is an appealing, or nutrient rich food source.

That’s right, your nose (and brain) help you detect the nutritional value of your food choices, and stimulate the biological process that translated that information, into our sense of appetite and hunger.

Food preferences during treatment depend on the individual, and their own personal likes, dislikes, and tolerance for digestion.   Some healthy snack ideas that are generally well-tolerated and nutritious, may include:

  • Bran muffins
  • Dry mixed fruit and seeds
  • Apples and peanut butter
  • Raw almonds
  • Bananas
  • Raw veggies and yoghurt dip
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Watermelon

Cancer treatments are well documented for their impact on the sense of taste and smell.   Some individuals report that they experience a significantly reduced ability to taste things.  The flavors do not register in the mouth, or through the nose, and that makes it hard to stimulate a healthy appetite for meals and snacks.  Many individuals with cancer must encourage themselves to eat, in spite of the fact that they feel no motivation to eat, or hunger triggers.

Cancer Treatments Contribute to Dehydration

Dehydration during cancer treatments is a serious problem, and it can happen easily.  Increased symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, contribute to fluid loss, as do other conditions which may be present, such as excessive sweating.  Loss of hydration and salt (or electrolytes) is a problem, making it more difficult for those engaged in cancer therapies to retain balanced levels of potassium and sodium.  One of the difficulties that people with cancer can face regarding dehydration, is that the body may be even more impaired, in terms of sending signals of thirst.   Other dietary habits such as the consumption of caffeine in high-quantities, can make it even more difficult to stay hydrated.

Talk to Your Doctor About Nutritional Supplements Before Buying Them

There is no shortage of nutritional supplements, enzyme formulations and vitamins available online, and in your local health food store, that promise to deliver healthful benefits for individuals who are undergoing cancer treatment.   One small study or research review, may be enough to validate the commercial distribution of a product that may (or may not) offer a health benefit to you, if you are undergoing chemotherapy.

Different types of cancer and medications, can react adversely with some types of nutritional supplements.  While the intention is good, not all vitamins and supplements are safe for individuals who are coping with cancer treatment.

Start by discussing the supplements you have taken historically and ask your physician for recommendations and clinical counseling.  Your doctor will be able to review and direct you to the nutritional aids and vitamins that he or she feels is best for your personal health. If you are thinking of trying a new daily multivitamin, probiotic or other nutritional supplement, review the ingredients first with your primary care provider, before taking them.

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