By Dr. Jordan Robertson BHSc. ND RAc
Radiation therapy takes prisoners in it’s path. Although the technology and development of radiation has improved dramatically in the last decade (lower amounts of radiation, and more targeted areas), patients often have side effects in the local area of treatment.
The digestive system is particularly vulnerable to radiation induced inflammation and damage, causing symptoms such as mouth sores (mucositis), esophagitis (difficulty swallowing) and diarrhea. There are few drug-based interventions offered to patients to correct these symptoms, and this is often when patients seek out support from a Naturopathic Doctor.
Choosing the right interventions should be based on your cancer type, where your radiation is directed, and the “side benefits” we expect from your treatments. Green Tea, Turmeric and Berberine all have benefits in cancer care beyond radiation side effects. Choosing the right intervention should offer multiple target outcomes, and can be prescribed by your Naturopathic Doctor.
Mouth sores can significantly reduce quality of life in patients while they undergo radiation treatment. We recommend mouth rinses to patients with honey, coffee, turmeric, aloe and a pharmacy-based cream Mucolox. These treatments when done 2-3 times per day can heal already formed lesions, while probiotics and glutamine may prevent lesions in the first place. Green Tea supplemented orally can also improve symptoms of oral mouth sores. We expect mucositis in many cancer types, especially head and neck cancers or esophageal cancers.
Irritation in the esophagus occurs during radiation for lymphoma, esophageal cancer, lung cancer and any cancer with radiation directed towards the chest wall. This can leave patients with difficulty swallowing, and challenges maintaining their food intake . We reviewed the evidence at McMaster University one year and found that the best evidence for esophagitis was by using Green Tea extract. Green tea protects healthy cells from radiation damage, and has been studied in enough clinical trials to conclude that it does not interfere with radiation treatments themselves. Often patients are warned not to consume antioxidants during chemotherapy and radiation. Speak with our Doctors to help us prescribe the best treatments for your case, and provide the evidence for your particular cancer type.
Many strategies can be used for preventing diarrhea during radiation, which is a common treatment option for colon cancer or rectal cancer. Gastrointestinal support with probiotics, synbiotics and glutamine have shown positive trends, while supporting healthy digestive function. Green tea and Berberine have also been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting and diarrhea during radiation therapy. Do not ignore diarrhea. Dehydration and malnutrition are common in cancer patients when their digestive symptoms are ignored too long. Patients who develop anemia or nutritional deficiencies during their treatment have poorer survival times and worse quality of life.