So you’ve finished your cancer treatment but you still don’t feel quite back to normal. Maybe you’re more tired than usual, having trouble concentrating or your digestion is not functioning properly. These symptoms are reported by a surprising number of patients after completing their cancer treatment. Studies have shown that 70-80% of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy alone or in combination with radiation, experience debilitating fatigue that may last for months or years after cancer treatment is finished.
This condition, called cancer-related fatigue (CRF), can limit a person’s ability to concentrate, decrease endurance, and can also cause increased depression, and sensitivity to light. Cancer-related fatigue is different from average tiredness, as most people with it don’t see improvement with additional rest or sleep.
Why does this happen?
Cancer chemotherapy drugs are some of the most powerful cellular toxins used in medicine today. Their goal is to kill fast growing cancer cells while imparting less toxicity to healthy cells. Unfortunately, healthy cells are also affected by chemotherapy toxicity to some degree. This leads to many common chemotherapy side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, abdominal pain, brain fog, nerve pain, and anemia.
The cells with the greatest risk of damage from oxidative stress (gut, blood cells and brain cells) are the ones that are most susceptible to damage from chemotherapy.
After 25 years of clinical experience as an integrative physician, I’d like to make a few recommendations that have the best chance of helping you feel better again!
1. Take a high-potency multivitamin with therapeutic dosages of antioxidants.
Taking a complete multivitamin will help insure that, regardless of your diet, your cells get an abundance of key micronutrients they need to heal, rebuild, and generate a good amount of energy.
You will fare even better if your multivitamin also contains substantial dosages of key antioxidants including alpha lipoic acid (100-400mg), acetyl-L-carnitine (500-1000mg), and N-acetyl-cysteine (600-1200mg) that work to recharge your mitochondria’s ability to make abundant energy.
2. If you are suffering from severe fatigue, mental fogginess or alertness problems, consider trying a short course of a mild stimulant.
Brain fog, which also goes by the name “chemo brain”, is a distressing symptom that can occur after cancer patients receive chemotherapy. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that cognitive recovery after chemotherapy for women with breast cancer can take up to five years.
Low doses of stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are frequently prescribed by oncologists off-label to help cancer patients continue functioning despite these symptoms. However, In order for stimulants to have the best chance to exert their desired effects (increased energy and alertness), make sure you are giving your body the proper amount of key nutrients and antioxidants.
3. Take a curcumin supplement.
Curcumin has been shown to exhibit powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, support the body’s detoxification pathways and strengthen the body’s immune response. This powerful natural compound, derived from the spice turmeric, has shown promising effects in the fight against cancer.
Curcumin interferes with several important molecular pathways involved in cancer cell development, growth and spread, even killing cancer cells in the test tube and shrinking tumors in animals. Additional studies have shown that curcumin promotes the repair of stem cells in the brain, which may explain its potential benefit to improve cognitive functioning in cancer patients after chemotherapy.
4. Support the health of your gut.
Ten times more bacterial organisms live in your gut than there are cells in your body. These bacteria are intended to be friendly and symbiotic in nature, helping you to digest food and also producing important vitamins that keep you healthy. However factors such as stress, poor diet, antibiotics and most cancer therapies can significantly alter these bacteria to include organisms that wreak havoc with your digestion, mood and overall health.
Eating a balanced diet rich in probiotic containing foods is important. However, taking a daily probiotic supplement can also help replenish beneficial bacteria often destroyed during chemotherapy. Studies have found that reduce the severity and frequency of diarrhea symptoms in many cancer patients. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a probiotic supplements that contains at least one billion organisms per day.