Which Nutrients Help Your Body Best Recover From Chemotherapy and Radiation?

A personal message from Dr. Jon Kaiser:

You have finally finished your standard treatment but you still don’t feel quite back to normal. Maybe you’re more tired than usual, your digestion is off, or you are having trouble concentrating. These symptoms are reported by a surprising number of patients upon completion of cancer treatment. Studies have shown that 70-80% of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy alone or in combination with radiotherapy experience debilitating fatigue that may last for months or years after the chemotherapy is finished.

Termed cancer-related fatigue (CRF), this condition limits a person’s ability to concentrate, decreases stamina, and can cause increased depression, and sensitivity to light. CRF is different from average tiredness, as most people with CRF don’t see improvement with additional rest or sleep.

What are some of the reasons why this happens?

Cancer chemotherapy drugs are some of the most powerful cellular toxins used in medicine today. Their goal is to kill fast growing cancer cells while imparting somewhat less toxicity to healthy cells. Unfortunately, healthy cells are also affected by chemotherapy toxicity to some degree. This leads to many common chemotherapy side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, abdominal pain, brain fog, nerve pain, and anemia.

In fact, the cells with the greatest risk of damage from oxidative stress (gut, blood cells and brain cells) are the ones that are most susceptible to damage from chemotherapy. Since it’s oxidative stress that’s causing the damage to your cells, it makes sense that supplementing your body’s level of key antioxidants may support its natural ability to eliminate these damaging toxins.

While there may be debate on exactly which nutrients to take, I’d like to make a few recommendations that, based on the research literature and my over 25 years of clinical experience, have the best chance of helping you feel well again!

1. Take a high-potency multivitamin with substantial levels of key antioxidants.

Taking a complete multivitamin will help insure that, regardless of your diet, your cells get an abundance of key micronutrients they need to heal, rebuild, and generate a good amount of energy. It should include adequate amounts of B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.

You will fare even better if your multivitamin also contains substantial dosages of key antioxidants including alpha lipoic acid (100-400mg), acetyl-L-carnitine (500-1000mg), and N-acetyl-cysteine (600-1200mg) that work to recharge your system at the cellular level.

2. Consider trying a short course of a mild stimulant such as caffeine, Ritalin or Adderall (at a low dose) if you are suffering from severe fatigue, mental fogginess or alertness problems.

Brain fog, which also goes by the name “chemo brain”, is a distressing symptom that can occur after cancer patients receive chemotherapy. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that cognitive recovery after chemotherapy for women with breast cancer can take up to five years.

Low doses of stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are frequently used off-label by oncologists to help cancer patients continue functioning despite these symptoms. However, when stimulants are taken without providing the body key nutrients needed to properly metabolize these drugs, metabolic deficiencies can result. This can lead to poor tolerance and side effects.

In order for caffeine and other stimulants to have the best chance to exert their desired effects (increased energy and alertness), make sure you are giving your body the proper amount of key nutrients and antioxidants. These nutrients are helpful for the optimized metabolism of these drugs.

3. Take a curcumin supplement.

Curcumin has been shown to exhibit powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, support the body’s detoxification pathways and strengthen the body’s immune response.This powerful natural compound, derived from the spice turmeric, has shown promising effects in the fight against cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, curcumin interferes with several important molecular pathways involved in cancer cell development, growth and spread, even killing cancer cells in the test tube and shrinking tumors in animals. Additional studies have shown that curcumin promotes the repair of stem cells in the brain, which may explain its potential benefit to improve cognitive functioning in patients post-cancer treatment.

Many naturopathic practitioners currently recommend supplementing curcumin as part of their cancer recovery strategy.

4. Support the health of your gut with a high potency probiotic supplement.

Ten times more bacterial organisms live in your gut than there are cells in your body. These bacteria are intended to be friendly and symbiotic in nature, helping you to digest food and also producing important vitamins that keep you healthy. However such factors as stress, poor diet, antibiotics and most cancer therapies can significantly alter these bacteria to include organisms that wreak havoc with your digestion, mood and overall health.

In fact, there is now substantial evidence indicating that an unhealthy population of gut microorganisms can actually leak waste products (lipopolysaccharides) into the bloodstream that cross the blood-brain barrier and promote brain inflammation. This can contribute to symptoms such as depression, brain fog, sleepiness and headaches.

Eating a balanced diet rich in probiotic containing foods is important. These include organic unsweetened yogurt, kefir, and other fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut. However, taking a daily probiotic supplement may still be necessary to replenish the important balance of beneficial bacteria often destroyed during chemotherapy treatment. Studies have found that probiotics improve irritable bowel symptoms (IBS) and quality of life for colorectal cancer survivors. They have also been shown to reduce the severity and frequency of diarrhea symptoms in many cancer patients.

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a probiotic supplements that contains at least one billion organisms per day. The most important bacteria is the Lactobacillus species. This species produces lactase, the enzyme required to break down lactose (milk sugar). Lactic acid also helps increase the absorption of minerals such as calcium, copper, magnesium, and iron.


In my opinion, treating cancer with chemotherapy and radiation treatments alone, without subsequently focusing on rebuilding the health of the gut, brain, and immune system, will be looked at as a major oversight in cancer care. Instituting the above recommendations can put you firmly back on the road to better health.

If you’d like to see all of these recommendations grouped together in a convenient package, please CLICK HERE for the After Chemo Pak. Finally, if there’s anyone you know who might benefit from this information, please pass it on.

Jon D. Kaiser, MD

Dr. Jon Kaiser has been treating patients with AIDS, cancer and other multisystem medical disorders for the past twenty-five years.  He is a Clinical Instructor at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School and Chief Medical Officer of K-PAX Pharmaceuticals.

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