Chemotherapy has been used as both first-line and second-line therapy in cancer treatments, especially in conventional medicine. However, the treatment is also known for its adverse effects to the body, which can range from extreme fatigue to an increased risk of infection. In recent studies, scientists have shown that adding probiotics to the mix can protect the body against the adverse side effects following the treatment.
In cancer treatment, chemotherapy refers to a procedure that uses a medication (or a combination of medications) to treat cancer. The therapy is systemic, which means it affects cells throughout the body. In particular, it targets rapidly growing cancer cells, but it can also affect healthy cells that grow rapidly, like those found in the gastrointestinal tract and in the bloodstream.
The side effects of chemotherapy are different, depending on the type and severity of the treatment. These include:
- Nausea and vomiting — These symptoms affect at least 70 percent of patients.
- Hair loss (alopecia) — During treatment, hair may start to fall out or become brittle. This is usually a great source of distress for patients.
- Fatigue — A commonly reported side effect following chemotherapy, it can severely affect a person’s quality of life.
- Hearing loss — The effects can either be temporary or permanent in some patients
- Increased risk of infections — Chemotherapy weakens the immune system, making patients more prone to developing infections.
- Bleeding problems — As the platelet count drops following treatment, a patient becomes more prone to bruises and bleeding.
- Anemia — Chemotherapy can damage red blood cells that carry oxygen to tissues in the body, resulting in tiredness and shortness of breath.
- Mucositis — Depending on the dose, the treatment can cause an inflammation of the mucous membranes, especially those in the oral cavity, digestive tract, and even the rectum and anus.
- Loss of appetite — Both chemotherapy and cancer affect the body’s metabolism, which can result in a loss of appetite and weight loss.
- Infertility and other sexual problems — Patients under chemotherapy lose interest in sex during treatment and also reduces fertility in both men and women.
Chemotherapy can also increase the risk for other cancers to develop, with complications from treatment being the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in America.
Fortunately, researchers have found that improving a patient’s intestinal health is a vital component in ensuring survival during chemotherapy — with some looking at probiotics to prevent potential damage to the gut microbiota during chemotherapy.
One such study in Oncotarget found that a dietary supplement with probiotics and digestive enzymes improved gut recovery following chemotherapy and antibiotics. To note, studies have shown the antibiotics can disrupt cell regeneration, making chemotherapy even more toxic to the body.
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A significant adverse event that comes with antibiotics is gut dysbiosis, which worsens existing conditions such as inflammation, obesity, and even cancer. This bad combination of deadly chemotherapy and antibiotics is nothing short of a death sentence for patients looking for an effective treatment for cancer.
Some probiotic foods to get you started
Getting into the habit of eating probiotic foods shouldn’t start when a person’s already battling chronic diseases such as cancer: Probiotics can improve digestion, reduce depression, and even prevent certain diseases — making them an ideal addition to any diet. Here are some probiotic foods that have great health benefits. (h/t Healthline.com)
- Yogurt — It’s one of the best sources of probiotics and it also prevents diarrhea caused by antibiotic use.
- Kefir — The word means “feeling good” in Turkish, which attests to its multiple benefits, including improving bone and digestive health.
- Sauerkraut — This fermented cabbage is rich in antioxidants, as well as vitamins C, B, and K.
- Kimchi — A well-known Korean side dish, the lactic acid bacteria in it can benefit digestive health.