If you’re one of the millions of people fighting cancer, you’re probably also battling digestive problems. Whether it’s nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation, these issues can make life very uncomfortable. This blog post is for you! I’m going to give you a rundown of what to expect with digestive issues during and after cancer treatment. Hang in there – with a little bit of help, you’ll get through this!
Many people who have gone through chemo will tell you that it can create discomfort in several areas of the body. The most worrisome when it comes to long-term health and preventing recurrence is the impact it has on the digestive system.
Chemotherapy can be a very stressful experience for people who are going through it or have just been completed. Your oncologist is focused on giving you treatment that is likely to get rid of the cancer cells in your body or at least stop them from spreading. Most conventional oncologists aren’t really focused on the other systems of your body that can become compromised while going through treatment.
The nature of chemotherapeutic drugs is to kill the most rapidly reproducing cells in the body, which are tumor cells. Apart from tumor cells, the most rapidly reproducing cells in our own bodies are the mucous membrane lining of the GI tract, the lungs, and the bone marrow where all of our red and white blood cells are made.
Chemotherapy, unfortunately, doesn’t discriminate what cells it is damaging in the body even though it is given to damage the DNA in tumor cells and kills them. These rapidly reproducing cells are impacted the most. However, your gut, even if you don’t have symptoms, is compromised. The cells that line your digestive tract are constantly turning over to create new cells as a barrier or protection against potential foreign invaders coming in from foods we eat.
These cells that provide our immune protection are damaged when we get chemotherapy and can lead to heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea or other types of elimination disorders, and more. You can also have a compromised digestive capacity, so your ability to properly break down food and absorb nutrients is damaged.
You become exhausted because you’re not absorbing your nutrients. You develop small leaks in your gut lining leading to more food sensitivities and hypersensitivity of the immune system living in the gut. It becomes arduous to figure out what foods are causing problems, but really it’s likely not a food problem. It’s a ”damage to the gut lining problem.”
If you’ve had digestive disturbance prior to a diagnosis, chemotherapy will create a cumulative effect that can then lead to subclinical infection in the digestive tract. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and dysbiosis, which is an imbalance in the number of good to bad bacteria in the gut can happen as well. This can lead to mental health problems and a response to stress. You might also have joint pain, headaches, difficulty losing weight, brain fog, and dementia. You might also be more likely to get other chronic diseases in the future.
I have worked with many clients whose main issue was trying to get off of their heartburn medication because it affected their digestion and elimination negatively and now suffered even more fatigue than before.
Unfortunately, these medications are given to block stomach acid also prevents the body from digesting food properly and can lead to multiple nutrient deficiencies.
That leads to a lot of the same things like malnutrition, fatigue, anemia, B12 deficiency, gall bladder sluggishness and inability to absorb important nutrients from the food that repair our body and protect our immune system.
Just because you’re done with chemotherapy doesn’t mean that the problem goes away. Because until you address the damage, you haven’t fixed the problem of having a damaged gut lining, and inevitably you will suffer downstream consequences in your health whether in the immune system, hormonal system or digestion.
From the conventional oncology view, it’s not their job to focus on the damaged non-cancerous cells of the body. It’s only their job to kill cancer cells. They don’t help you to wipe up the mess afterward that everyone’s inevitably left with, and that’s where integrative oncology comes in to help you regain health and heal the damage.
Although cancer treatment wreaks havoc on the digestive system, integrative oncology can help set you back on the path to good health. If you’re experiencing any digestive issues following chemotherapy or radiation therapy, we encourage you to schedule a free discovery call with one of our integrative oncology specialists. We want to help you regain your health and vitality – so don’t hesitate to reach out!
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