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Cancer treatments can come with a range of side effects that are detrimental to your health and recovery. Diarrhea is probably one of the more dangerous side effects that can accompany conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Not only can it be painful, but it removes important nutrients, probiotics, and water from the body. As a result, diarrhea puts you at a higher risk for more trauma from infection and dehydration.
It is important to manage these side effects immediately to prevent further complications that will weaken the body. Doctors will be the first to admit that they cannot heal you. It is your own body that does the healing − but you have to help by feeding your body healthy foods and avoiding problematic foods that are going to worsen the diarrhea.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common causes of diarrhea and some home remedies for diarrhea to alleviate it. There’s also a healthy recipe to help keep diarrhea at bay.
6 Common Causes of Diarrhea Related to Cancer & Cancer Treatments
Chemotherapy generally kills the fast-growing cells in your GI tract which often causes diarrhea. The drugs that go along with chemo can also result in diarrhea as a side effect, so inform your doctor if you are suffering.
- Radiation Treatments
Radiation that is targeted at your pelvis, abdomen, or lower back often triggers diarrhea. This is because the cells lining your gut get damaged. This can persist for months or years after treatment and can lead to serious health issues. It’s important to take immediate action to correct the problem.
- Stem Cell Treatments
In this case the problem can be triggered by rejection of the cells from the body if it is a donor that supplies the stem cells. Alternatively, radiation and chemo treatments that accompany stem cell transplants can irritate the gastrointestinal tract.
Lymphoma, colon, pancreatic, thyroid, and neuroendocrine cancers all affect the gut and can result in diarrhea. The duration of the symptoms depends on the specific cancer involved. If you have long-term diarrhea (more than a week at a time), you should consult your physician.
Infections are common after chemo and radiation therapy because the billions of microorganisms that live in the gut to aid in digestion and fight pathogens get destroyed. Antibiotics also kill good gut bacteria making you susceptible to infection. So, it is important to replenish the gastrointestinal tract with probiotics.
- Open Ileocecal Valve
The ileocecal valve is located between the small and large intestines. It is a muscle that closes off the two parts of the intestines to prevent the mixing of substances. However, it can be irritated by stress and anxiety or too much fibrous foods. The valve can get “stuck in the open position” and diarrhea is the result. There are simple ways to help close it (more on that below).
Home Remedies for Diarrhea
Some of the home remedies for diarrhea include modifying your diet to reduce fiber, spicy foods, and caffeinated drinks/foods.
If your ileocecal valve is open, you can apply a cold pack to the area. It is located halfway between the belly button and right hip. Keep the cold pack on for 20 minutes. According to Dr. David Williams you can also try holding the valve shut for several minutes by placing your hand over the valve and while pushing in, pull up toward the left shoulder. Or you can alternate using a cold pack and holding the valve shut. Dr. Williams also recommends the valve holding technique to anyone suffering from traveller’s diarrhea.
There are also specific foods that help alleviate diarrhea that you can add to your daily menu until you recover from cancer therapy. These foods include:
- Liquids: water with lemon juice and sea salt, strained apple juice, and strained broths. You will need at least 10-12 glasses per day depending on the severity of the diarrhea. This will prevent dehydration and maintain your electrolyte balance.
- Bananas, apricots, avocados, and sweet potatoes are high in potassium and are important for many functions in the body. Potassium is lost during diarrhea so it is important to replace it.
- Fermented foods will help to restore probiotics in your gut. Avoid dairy products like ice-cream and milk, but whole milk live culture yoghurt is beneficial − especially if you can get it unpasteurized. Also, sauerkraut and dill pickles will restore probiotics − especially if you make your own.
- Fresh (organic) apples and pears are also helpful to stop diarrhea. Both of these fruits can relieve constipation and control diarrhea. They are very special and contain many healthy nutrients to increase your energy while building your immune system.
Other Tips If You Are Experiencing Diarrhea
If you are suffering from diarrhea make sure you get sufficient fluids, electrolytes, and nutrients. Try eating small meals, but more frequently. Avoid caffeinated drinks and foods such as coffee, tea, chocolate, colas, or other sodas. Spicy foods are not recommended, but a pinch of cayenne pepper in smoothies or soups has proven to be beneficial due to the capsaicin.
Eating foods that are fermented are good, but avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and eliminate refined sugar and flour. Processed and fried foods are also not recommended and these foods are actually known to be carcinogenic.
High fiber foods can add to the problem as well. Fiber is good but not too much of it. So, in the case of diarrhea you should reduce the fiber in your meals. Check out our recipe below as a good option to add to your meals to help speed your recovery and ease the symptoms of diarrhea.
Recipe to Alleviate Diarrhea