Bloating and Cancer Treatment
Bloating. It’s one thing to feel overly full after a large celebratory meal, but unfortunately, for many patients in cancer treatment, bloating doesn’t come with a holiday, but instead is an unpleasant side effect of cancer therapy. Bloating, or fullness after meals, may be caused by a variety of reasons including decreased exercise due to fatigue, taking in too much air while eating or eating gas-producing foods. Bloating can also be caused by slowed movement of food through the G.I. (gastrointestinal tract or digestive tract) tract due to gastric surgery, chemotherapy (also called chemo belly), radiation therapy or medications. Whatever the cause, the discomfort is universally not welcome. It’s a Catch 22. You need good nutrition to help your body recover and heal at its optimal level, but you may begin to avoid eating the foods which come with great nutritional benefits because many are also likely to cause bloating. The good news is that this is a temporary condition which will improve. In the meantime, try the following strategies to help yourself feel better:
Food & Beverages
Choose food carefully. Avoid deep fried, high-fat foods, highly processed “fast foods,” foods with high sugar content and sodas, especially caffeinated ones. In addition to being filled with gas-creating sugar and unnatural ingredients, the bubbles and caffeine may promote gassiness, bloating and heartburn. Even though they are nutritionally beneficial, you may want to reduce gas-producing vegetables and fruits, such as legumes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and asparagus. Some fruits, including prunes, apples, peaches, and pears contain Sorbitol, a sugar that produces excessive gas, and so these fruits should be avoided or eaten in moderation. Also to be avoided are Sorbital sweetened sugar-free gum and candy as they can lead to excessive gas as well. Keep in mind that you don't need to avoid these foods completely. Try experimenting slowly with small quantities and avoid eating too many foods that cause discomfort on the same day. You can also try preparing vegetables and fruits in a more digestible form, such as a pureed soup, or by juicing fruits and vegetables. Balance your meals with foods less likely to cause bloating, including lean protein, (fish, chicken, lean meats), moderate healthy fats (smooth nut and seed butters, avocado) and whole grains including bread, rice, oatmeal, well-cooked barley (think soup), and well-cooked carrots, beets, green beans, squash, and spinach. Choose fruits with a lower amount of fructose including berries, peaches, plums, ripe bananas and citrus.
Chew, Chew, Chew
Chew food slowly and try to be aware of not gulping in air along the way. Most of us have become accustomed to eating food quickly, either on the run, or even at meal times. The more you chew your food, the more saliva you’ll produce, and that saliva contains digestive enzymes that will help reduce gas that causes bloating. Gulping excessive air can also be reduced by avoiding drinking through straws, chewing gum or breathing through your mouth. You may also find that eating five or six smaller meals throughout the day will help relieve that overfull bloating feeling.
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Be Careful with Dairy
Chemo and radiation have been known to prevent the small intestine from producing enough of the body’s required enzyme lactase, which can lead to bloating, gassiness, cramping or diarrhea when foods with lactose are eaten. For gentler dairy choices, consider probiotic-rich foods that improve digestion, such as unsweetened yogurt and kefir, with fresh fruit or nuts added for flavor and texture.
Water helps to restore the sodium balance in your body and normalizes your digestive tract as well as keeping you hydrated. Aim for a daily recommendation of 8 (8-oz) glasses of water and add a slice of lemon to promote better digestion. To further aid your body in digesting food most effectively, avoid drinking water when eating a meal, aiming for at least 30-45 minutes before or after eating.
Ginger, peppermint and fennel tea are all long-honored as digestive aids and remedies. The fragrant steam may enhance your feeling of well-being with the benefit with aromatherapy.
Take a walk. Begin upright and moving your body may help bring relief from bloating. Walking also helps to release trapped gas. It’s free, easy to do throughout the day and comes with the extra benefit of improving circulation. Walking after you eat will also help move things along in the digestive system so try to get in the habit of taking a stroll – even if it’s a short one – after every meal.
We all want to fit into our favorite pair of jeans, but this is the time to cut yourself some slack. Look for clothes with forgiving waists and fabrics that don’t pinch or cling. Remember – this is a temporary state that isn’t your fault. Indulging in some comfortable clothing that helps you feel good might even help you reduce your bloating as stress can affect digestion and inflammatory response.
Hot Water Bottle
Nurture yourself with an old-fashioned remedy that is inexpensive, convenient, easy-to-use and offers cozy comfort. Placing a hot water bottle on your abdomen aids digestive organs, improves circulation and helps ease the gas that’s built up in your stomach. If you’ve got a compliant cat who’s willing to step in and snuggle in against your belly, that will do the trick too!
The Anti-Bloat Smoothie
This easy-to-make smoothie is a powerhouse of potassium; the mineral found in coconut water and bananas, which helps regulate sodium levels and prevents water retention. The cucumber adds hydrating water and the fresh ginger, which has been used medicinally for centuries in various cultures, prevents digestive problems and relieves bloating.
½ cup coconut water
1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
A handful of ice
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!