Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the two most common cancer treatments based on Western medicine. Though effective, these treatments are also known to cause serious side effects on the human body, some of which manifest in the form of hair loss, fatigue, dry skin, and mouth ulcers. Other serious long-term side effects include damage to important organs in our body, such as the heart, kidneys, reproductive organs, and nerve endings. These side effects may be so debilitating that it prevents patients from completing their cancer treatment.
However, there are many ways to alleviate the side effects of cancer and its treatment, one of which is through food! Today, we share some of the best foods to eat during and after chemo- and radiotherapy from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective.
How conventional treatments work
Simply put, both radio- and chemotherapy treat cancer by killing the cells that grow and divide quickly in the body. However, this process does not discriminate between cancer and healthy cells — normal cells are also destroyed in the process. From a TCM perspective, such damage to healthy cells results in the deficiency of the body’s Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang. As such, it is essential for cancer patients to adopt a diet and lifestyle that can help alleviate these deficiencies and boost the body’s immune system.
TCM Approach to Cancer and Food For Cancer Patients
TCM’s approach towards cancer management is a personalised one which takes into consideration the type and stage of the cancer, the type of western treatment used, and the general body constitution of the patient. Hence, it is best for all cancer patients to consult a licensed TCM practitioner for a treatment and diet plan tailored to their specific needs.
That being said, there are still some easily accessible foods that cancer patients can safely incorporate into their own diet during and after chemotherapy/radiotherapy to combat the known side effects of these treatments.
1) Foods to Alleviate Yin Deficiency Symptoms (e.g. dryness, hot flashes, insomnia…)
From a TCM perspective, when radiotherapy makes use of radiation energy to kill cancer cells, this damages the body’s Yin energy and results in Yin deficiency syndrome.
Common symptoms of Yin deficiency include dry eyes, dry skin and lips, constant feeling of thirst, hair loss, hot flashes, hard stools, and even insomnia. In extreme cases, a severe lack of Yin in our body may even topple the delicate Yin-Yang balance in our body, resulting in both Yin and Yang deficiencies.
To prevent this, we recommend eating foods such as white fungus, black fungus, wolfberries, and bird’s nest. Consuming these foods on a regular basis is beneficial to the restoration of the body’s Yin and will help alleviate symptoms of dryness and insomnia.
2) Foods to Replenish Qi and Boost Energy (for lethargy, exhaustion, poor immunity)
The non-discriminatory nature of chemotherapy (where healthy cells are also destroyed) depletes our body’s Qi, thereby weakening our immunity. Cancer patients who are deficient in Qi may find themselves easily exhausted and more susceptible to illnesses. Foods that replenish Qi include Huang Qi, Cordyceps, Ginseng, and Ling Zhi.
Pro-tip: Choose Premium (Wild) Huang Qi
They are grown naturally in the wild which means they are free of chemicals and pesticides. Premium Huang Qi also contains a higher concentration of bioactive ingredients which helps to support the immune system and provide antioxidant effects.
3) Foods to Target Blood Deficiency Symptoms (e.g. fatigue, dizziness, hair loss, menstrual irregularities…)
Since Qi is needed for stimulating Blood production in TCM, some cancer patients may also experience symptoms of Blood deficiency if their Qi and immunity has been affected by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Symptoms of Blood deficiency include pallor, fatigue, dizziness, hair loss, and even irregularities in menstrual cycles for women.
Foods like black fungus, red meat, longan and red date tea are beneficial to patients with Blood deficiencies. Patients with both Qi and Blood deficiencies are also encouraged to consume moderate amounts of lean meats in the form of soup or broth.
Add pandan leaves to the brew for extra fragrance – it helps detox too!
Apart from eating healthy foods, establishing a healthy lifestyle is just as important for a cancer patient. Patients are advised to get rid of health-damaging habits like smoking and alcohol consumption, and avoid overconsuming processed, sugary, and fried foods.
Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is the key to mitigating the negative side effects of chemo- and radio-therapies. Once again, this article serves as a general guideline for cancer patients seeking to improve their diet for cancer support. We recommend consulting a licensed TCM physician for careful assessment and a more holistic and personalized diet plan.
If you are a cancer warrior who is looking to support your cancer journey with TCM, call/WhatsApp us at +65 8742 2163 to book an appointment with our bilingual physicians.
This article is written by Senior Physician Mei Yun.
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