Chemotherapy and Radiation Treatments and the Need for Good Nutrition
Cancer itself may not be problematic; in fact, many types of cancer can continue to grow in the body without any warning signs at all until it is widespread or starts causing other organs to malfunction. For this reason, it is important that all screening test schedules be followed. However, even with proper screening there are times when the cancer can grow without notice. In most cases of cancers that are deemed treatable, there are three courses of action which may be taken individually or in some combination with one another. These options are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
The side effects of both chemo and radiation can make a patient miserable and may seem like they are worse than the cancer itself. These symptoms include nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, anemia, hair loss, fatigue, mouth ulcers and sores, yeast infections, depression and anxiety, insomnia and pain. All of these problems by themselves can be hard enough to handle, but they often all come at the same time.
In addition, you get these side effects while you are trying to cope with cancer and recovering from surgery or other treatments as well. The last thing that people who are going through this want to do is to eat, however, solid nutrition will give them the strength to fight and get back to better health.
While each patient should follow individual recommendations from their doctor for their own care, it is generally agreed that those who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer care need to have increased nutrition which includes:
– Whey and other protein supplements for health and caloric boost
– Glutamine, an amino acid found in proteins
– Green tea
Whey Protein, Protein Supplements and MCT
The reasons that most cancer patients lose a lot of weight may include a lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which are all common side effects. The fact is that a large portion of the foods eaten will not be absorbed properly by the body because of the chemotherapy. These three factors working together can make the chemo patient weaker and weaker and may leave them susceptible to a number of infections and other problems at their worst moment.
MCT – MCT is a highly absorbable, high calorie oil containing a fat which is a medium chain triglycerides. There are a number of different products which contain MCT and are available from your health care professional, who can also recommend how much of the product you should use.
Whey Protein – Whey protein is easily absorbable and boosts the immune system in a number of ways, first by supplying immunoglobulins. Whey protein also helps to boost the optimal intake of other proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals for overall health. Glutathione is increased by whey protein. Glutathione is an antioxidant which is necessary for a healthy immune system. It also lowers the risk of some infections and may inhibit the growth of some tumors. (Source: Badger)
Whey protein is an optimal source of amino acids, necessary for a number of the body’s functions. The whey protein isolate has 90% protein but less lactose, especially beneficial for those who are lactose intolerant (Source: Segounis). In addition, whey protein is also important to prevent muscle breakdown, which may be a problem in the presence of lowered caloric intake. The body, needing energy will use up the energy reserves and will then turn to the muscles for more energy, breaking them down and leaving the body even weaker.
Protein Supplements – A lack of appetite can be a major problem. If there is a moment when you do feel hungry, you should have a snack that is convenient to have when you are ready. Protein snacks and supplements include shakes, bars and liquid protein supplement shots. Protein bars should have a high amount of protein but limited sugars because the sugar can depress an already stressed immune system.
The liquid protein shot Profect from Protica is a good choice because it is portable, (it comes in a virtually non-breakable plastic tube) small enough to be carried anywhere, and can be consumed in only a few seconds since it only contains 2.9 fluid ounces. It gives a full 25 grams of protein per serving as well. In addition, Profect does not have any added sugars, which can further deplete the immune system.
Glutamine – Glutamine is an important amino acid, one of many that is synthesized by the human body on its own. Adding a supplement of this amino acid can protect the cells which line the intestinal tract and can be damaged by chemotherapy or radiation treatments. (Source: Gottlieb, 2000). Before adding any type of supplement however, speak to your doctor who may have other suggestions or may disagree with their use.
Amino acids are important, and are the building blocks that many functions are built upon. The body makes a number of amino acids beyond glutamine, however, it cannot make eight of them. The eight amino acids not made by the body must come from the foods that we eat- both from animal and plant based sources.
Animal proteins are complete, meaning that they have all eight of these amino acids. Plant proteins are not complete because they typically are missing one or more of the amino acids. The only exception to this is soy protein which is complete. The eight essential amino acids are: threonine, isoleucine, leucine, valine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan and lysine. In children, histadine is also needed from food sources.
Antioxidants – Antioxidants are meant to prevent the damage of free radicals in the body. Free radicals also multiply in the body because of sun damage, smoking, poor diet and other factors. Whether antioxidants are good for cancer patients or not is a serious debate. Chemotherapy generates free radicals to destroy the cancerous cells. On one side of this debate are the doctors who believe that since antioxidants seek out and neutralize free radicals, then those who are using chemo should avoid antioxidants or at the very least not add extras to their diet. However, there are doctors who think that antioxidants not only boost the effectiveness of the chemo or radiation treatment, but also lessen the painful side effects. (Source: Gottlieb, 2000)
Your own doctor may be on the opposite side of the antioxidant debate than you are. You may want to present your side of the issue and work out a decision together. Your best care depends on everyone being on the same page, working as a team.
Green Tea – Green tea, as well as other teas can help cancer patients to feel better. It also is beneficial for its anti-cancer properties. You can drink several cups of green tea per day, either hot or cold depending on your preference. You can also use green tea supplements. Again, before adding any supplements to your diet, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.