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Top tips to maintaining a healthy digestive system

Published: 29 May 2019

Most people experience digestive problems related to their cancer or cancer treatment, which can result in abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation.   Symptoms can be quite severe and extremely uncomfortable, and this is why it is so important that cancer patients think about what they are eating and drinking to keep their digestive tract working as efficiently as possible. But what can you do to help aid these unpleasant side-effects?

Although you may find it embarrassing discussing your digestive and bowel habits with your healthcare team, it is important that you consult with them because as well as being incredibly uncomfortable, resolving any problems can improve your tolerance for treatment. There may be medications they can prescribe and advice they can offer about supplements and diet. 

Nausea

Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can make you feel nauseous and unwell.  If you feel like this, you probably won't feel like eating very much.  For your own health, it's important that you get as much good nutrition into your body as possible, not to mention keeping your strength up. 

Here are some tips to help cope with nausea:

Constipation 

Many factors related and unrelated to cancer can contribute to constipation, such as medications used to help with cancer treatment, inadequate fluid intake, changes in eating habits and a decrease in activity. Constipation can be quite painful, it can also reduce your appetite and lead to further nutritional problems.

Here are some tips to help relieve constipation:

We appreciate that all of these are not possible during cancer treatment because of your location, poor appetite, and fatigue.  So, if nothing else, make sure you increase your fluids by sucking on ice chips, frozen fruit or by including soups with meals.

Diarrhea 

Chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow transplant, medications used for side effect management and cancer itself can contribute to diarrhea.  Dietary changes and general anxiety and stress can also exacerbate the problem. It’s important to try to stop diarrhea as soon as possible because it can deplete the body of necessary fluids and nutrients. 

Here are some tips to help stop diarrhea:

Although these are some guidelines you can try, everyone is different and you may find these don’t work for you. And if they don’t, try something different.  Don’t persevere if you think something is making you worse.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Do you know about probiotics and prebiotics? There have been a lot of studies and articles regarding these in recent years and some even showing how a healthy digestive tract can even affect your mental health. 

Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that live in our gut and prebiotics are the food required by the healthy bacteria. The right balance of pre and probiotics will help to keep things chugging along as normal.

Prebiotics can be found within plant fibers from foods such as bananas, onions, asparagus, oatmeal, beans, and legumes. Foods that naturally contain healthy, living bacteria (probiotics) are yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kombucha tea, sauerkraut, kimichi, and tempeh.  

There are many probiotic supplements available over-the-counter. However, during cancer treatment, it is always important to discuss their use with your healthcare team.

Note:  We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this blog is meant to be used as a helpful resource but is not a substitute for medical advice.

And please help others by sharing your own top tips in the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group. Here you’ll find thousands of people who know first-hand what you are going through. 


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