The one-two punch of cancer and chemotherapy can literally kill you. In fact, chemotherapy typically involves the use of cytotoxic drugs, meaning medications that are deadly to living cells. Yes, chemo is designed to target and destroy only cancerous cells, but it can also damage healthy cells, significantly increase the toxic burden on the body, and deplete stores of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants). As a result, people undergoing chemo feel weak and exhausted.

Post Cancer Treatment Image

In addition, chemotherapy often causes oxidative damage to cells resulting in a condition referred to as mitochondrial fatigue. A cell’s mitochondria serve as its power house, providing the energy the cell needs to function properly. Exhausted cells make a tired body. Fortunately, targeted nutritional therapies can help to repair damaged cells and restore depleted nutrients to make you start feeling significantly better and re-energized after chemo.

In addition to making you feel better, these nutritional therapies help to restore and strengthen your body’s natural ability to fight cancer.

Following are a few key points to keep in mind regarding chemotherapy and the need for post cancer treatment rehabilitation:

Cancer is a chronic condition, so any treatment plan needs to consider the long-term health of the patient and not focus solely on eradicating the cancer.

Subjecting your body to toxic chemicals without giving thought to restoring normal body function is limited thinking and unfortunately comes with consequences.

When administered appropriately, nutritional therapy will not interfere with cancer treatments any more than eating food would interfere.

Patients receiving post cancer treatment rehabilitation experience better bowel function, improved energy, healthier complexion, and a better sense of well-being.

Recognizing Post-Chemo Symptoms

If you’re receiving chemotherapy, you’re likely to experience one or more of the following side effects:

  • Fatigue
  • Neutropenia (increasing the risk of infection)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Dry skin or changes in skin tone
  • Changes in mood
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Mouth, tongue, and throat problems (such as mouth sores and pain when swallowing)
  • Inability to concentrate (sometimes referred to as “chemo brain”)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Anemia (low red blood cell counts)
  • Diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive issues
  • Decreased libido or impaired sexual function
  • Neuropathy (nerve damage resulting in numbness and tingling)
  • Hepatotoxicity (liver toxicity)
  • Cardiomyopathy and other heart problems
  • Pulmonary fibrosis and other conditions that reduce lung capacity
  • Bone and joint problems

Symptoms tend to vary according to the specific chemical(s) used and the cells that are damaged. For example, if blood cells are damaged, you are more likely to experience anemia, fatigue, or increased susceptibility to infection. If the chemo damages cells that line the mucous membranes, you are more likely to experience diarrhea, mouth sores, and throat pain (when swallowing). Damage to cells at the hair follicles can result in hair loss. Additional symptoms may be the result of nutrient depletion.

Identifying Toxins and Nutrient Deficiencies

When a patient is receiving chemo, doctors can quickly draw the connection between the chemotherapy and the patient’s symptoms. In other words, what’s causing the symptoms is no mystery that requires careful diagnosis. The mystery doctors must solve involves identifying the toxins present and the nutrient deficiencies:

  1. Lab evaluations can detect vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant deficiencies that contribute to the mitochondrial dysfunction, which hinders recovery.
  2. Nutritional evaluations of diet can reveal missing macronutrients the body needs and is lacking to repair cells and tissues.
  3. Physical examination can show signs of depletions and point to liver inflammation or intestinal problems that impact digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Restoring Health and Function after Chemo

Although chemotherapy is often the treatment of choice for certain forms of cancer at certain stages, it can leave the body exhausted and littered with toxic waste and cellular debris. Treatments found through a functional medicine approach to doctoring can help detoxify the body, restore nutrients, and reverse damage to healthy cells. Although I develop a personalized treatment plan for each of my patient’s needs, treatment often involves the following:

  • Detoxification to remove toxins from the chemo treatments and other environmental toxins. Because the liver is responsible for detoxing the body, detoxing the liver is essential.
  • Dietary adjustments, including optimizing hydration, increasing consumption of healthy foods, and reducing or eliminating consumption of harmful foods.
  • Nutrient supplementation to restore depleted macronutrients and micronutrients.
  • Antioxidant supplementation — including replenishment of Glutathione — to reduce damage to normal tissues without decreasing the effectiveness of the chemotherapy.
  • Increasing activity levels.
  • Increasing the quantity and quality of sleep.

Cancer treatment is one of the few areas where conventional and functional medicine converge. Conventional medicine provides powerful tools for killing cancer cells, but it weakens the body overall and impairs healthy function. Functional medicine can restore optimum health after such treatment.

If you are currently receiving chemo or are scheduled to receive such treatment, I strongly encourage you to add a functional medical practitioner to your team or at least a highly qualified nutritionist. In addition to helping you recover from cancer and chemo, ensuring proper nutrition is key to any successful long-term cancer treatment.

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About the Author: Dr. Matt Lewis, D.C., CFMP®, specializes in diagnosing and treating the underlying causes of the symptoms related to chronic and unexplained illness through nutrition, lifestyle, chiropractic, and other natural approaches to whole-health healing in Tampa, Florida. He earned his B.S. in Biology from Shenandoah University, his Doctorate in Chiropractic from Life University, his CFMP® from Functional Medicine University, and his certification as a Digestive Health Specialist (DHS) through the Food Enzyme Institute. Dr. Lewis’ passion for health and wellness stems from his own personal experience. With a family history of autoimmune conditions and diabetes, and his own lab tests showing his genetic susceptibility to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune thyroid), he has learned how to restore his own health and vigor to prevent the onset of these illnesses and live an incredibly active life. Through this process, he acquired a deeper understanding of health and wellness, which he now offers his patients in Tampa.