Friday, 25 August 2017

Top tips for reducing digestive symptoms related to cancer treatment

Today's post is by Sophie Tully BSc MSc, a Nutrition Scientist at Igennus Healthcare Nutrition on how you can improve your digestion following cancer treatment.

You've probably been hearing a lot in the media recently about the importance of the gut in promoting overall health. Researchers are increasingly linking our digestive function and the health of the ‘good’ bacteria that live in the gut to everything from mental health, energy, autoimmunity, autism, allergies and of course cancer. As such, supporting digestive health is important for everyone who wants to improve or protect their health. Undergoing treatment for cancer puts a huge strain on the body and in particular can lead to some very nasty digestive tract side effects that leave you feeling worse than is often necessary, as well as leading to further potential complications of treatment. Supporting the digestive tract is vitally important, not only to help reduce the severity of symptoms but also to help ensure your treatments can work as well as possible without further reducing your body’s natural defences.

There are a number of foods and nutritional factors that can easily be added into the diet to help ease digestive discomfort, reduce nausea and diarrhoea and reduce the long-term impact of treatment on digestive health and function. Here are my top  tips for promoting digestive health during and after cancer treatment and reducing the severity of associated symptoms:

1) Boiled bones for better bellies

Cancer treatments can leave you feeling very sick and uncomfortable so that the last thing we want to do is eat. Homemade broths, made from leftover chicken or beef bones, are a great way of ensuring you are still getting some good nutrients into your system without the need to eat huge amounts of food in one go. Bone broths contain a range of nutritional factors, in particular glutamine, collagen and glycine, that directly help heal damage to the lining of the digestive tract caused by cancer treatments; they also support the digestion of food, making it easier on the stomach when you do eat something and promote detoxification helping you to process treatment-related chemicals in the body. Consuming a few sips of warm (not hot) bone broth at every given opportunity will therefore not only help you feel more comfortable after eating other foods, but will also help reduce the severity of your side effects by protecting the gut lining itself and reduce the time the body is exposed to chemical toxins that directly cause these side effects. Pretty impressive stuff!

2) Fermented foods = effective fixes 

These contain the ‘good’ bugs that live in abundance in the digestive tract and support immune function and digestive health. Chemo-, radio- and pharmaco-therapies are very harmful to these bacteria and as a result many of them die off during cancer treatment, leaving you more prone to stomach cramps, upset and sickness, as well as more vulnerable to bugs or infection. When you are feeling up to it, try to consume some fermented foods such as pickles, kombucha or kefir to help repopulate your digestive tract and keep your GI tract happy. If you aren’t a fan of fermented foods, which can be an acquired taste, or you find they cause irritation, then natural organic yogurt and a probiotic supplement can also be used with great effect, reducing side effects and promoting immune function.

3) Soothing solutions for stubborn sickness

If you, like so many others, feel sick following treatment then there are a few things that can help to soothe the stomach and ease the nausea, giving enough respite to get some much needed rest. Fresh ginger and mint teas (taken separately) can be very soothing on the stomach and are commonly used to ease nausea occurring for a range of reasons. Just a few slices of fresh ginger in some warm water or a good bunch of mint leaves sipped throughout the day will not only promote hydration – also very important for helping you to feel better – but can significantly help reduce nausea, leading to a more settled stomach. 

4) Real results to reduce reflux

If you are struggling with persistent burning or indigestion-type sensations as a result of your treatment, chewing slippery elm tablets or taking it as a powder with lots of water can be very helpful. Slippery elm provides a soothing action the whole way down the oesophagus and into the stomach, helping to ease the discomfort and burning experienced almost instantly, allowing you to eat and sleep without feeling constantly like your stomach is on fire. Slippery elm needs to be taken with lots of water so make sure you are constantly sipping at some fluids according to your tolerance.

5) Move the body, move the bowel

For many people, cancer treatments can result in reduced digestive transit, leaving you feeling bloated, uncomfortable and even in pain. It is important to keep hydrated and try to consume fibrous foods whenever possible, as low levels of both fluids and fibre will reduce the volume and consistency of the stool, making it harder to pass. Drinking the above-mentioned teas, water whenever you can and consuming small amounts of legumes, green leafy vegetables, fatty fish and a few prunes can all help to aid transit and prevent things getting backed up. Lack of movement can reduce the blood flow to the digestive tract, reducing its natural peristaltic actions and slowing bowel transit. Trying to move as often as possible can help promote bowel movements so going for a gentle walk might be worth a try to get things moving.

6) Follow my 4Rs for reducing side effect risk: 

  1. Rest is vital to make sure your body has the time to repair and recover following treatment. Whilst it may be easier said than done, allowing yourself the time needed for your body to deal with the body-wide damage treatment causes is as important as the treatment itself. Too much extra stress and activity will divert energy and resources away from where it is needed, making side effects potentially worse.
  2. Rehydrate regularly to make sure you are able to flush out the potentially harmful chemicals produced in the body as a result of treatment, as well as keep the digestive tract moving and fluid levels stable for carrying nutrients to the cells.
  3. Refuel as often as you can with natural whole foods. This is important to ensure you provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to process the treatment and its impact on your cells. Prioritising plant foods, proteins and healthy fats and of course your bone broth is the best way to support the body’s needs.
  4. Relax! Stress is your worst enemy at this time as it will compete with your immune system for resources, potentially worsening side effects and reducing treatment effect. Stress is also a major contributor to digestive symptoms, so whilst worrying and getting stressed is a natural part of undergoing cancer treatment it’s important to try to engage in regular relaxation and calming activities that take your mind off things and help you stay calm and happy. Mindfulness, meditation, gentle exercise such as yoga or walking, sitting outside and listening to audiobooks can all be great ways of keeping stress in check. 
If you would like to know more about any of the above, please feel free to call Nina, Sophie or Kyla, all of whom will be very happy to answer your questions.

They can be reached at 0845 1300424 (not a premium rate number) or you can email them at You can also find out more on the Igennus website.

Don’t forget all Yes to Life blog readers are entitled to 15% discount with Igennus and for every purchase made using the coupon code ‘YesToLife’ Igennus will donate a portion back to Yes To Life to help fund our ongoing support for you.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Those 3 words: "You have cancer" - Dr Nasha Winters

This week's blog is written by Dr Nasha Winters who we interviewed on our radio show in June about her book “The Metabolic Approach To Cancer” which she wrote with Jess Higgins Kelley.

Coming up to my 26th year out from a terminal cancer diagnosis, I am no stranger to the stigma, fear, overwhelm, confusion and paralysis that can accompany such a life-changing phrase: “You have cancer”. 

I am also hypersensitive to the impetus to jump immediately into treatment with no regard to the individual or to the origins of this process. The real medical emergency of a cancer diagnosis IS the diagnosis itself. How you respond and react to those three words can profoundly impact your therapeutic outcome. 

Rushing blindly in to a surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy, alternative therapy, dietary intervention, etc. is a dangerous and slippery slope. There is no reason why you shouldn’t take a moment and breath. 

Those 3 words - “You have cancer”- are simply a light switch coming on. This is an opportunity to start using that light to illuminate what is happening in, on and around you.  What is this diagnosis trying to tell you? This is NOT the time to dive headfirst into any particular treatment approach. It is the time to start your detective work. 

A few life saving and life changing recommendations I would make for anyone on this journey - whether it is your first time or a recurrence, is this:

1)   Stop. Be still. Breath. Turn off the computer. Don’t immediately talk to everyone you know.  This is YOUR body. This is YOUR process. It is a sacred moment to get really clear on how you got here and where you need to go next.
2)   Get a second opinion. Even a third. And from different institutions. You will find, for the most part, the recommendations will vary. Find what resonates with you.
3)   TEST.  BEFORE someone starts any form of treatment get the following:
a.   If you had a biopsy that led to this diagnosis, have it sent off for molecular profiling to a company like Caris, Foundation One, Rational Therapeutics, etc.
b.   If you didn’t have a biopsy, and you want/need one, perhaps meet with an integrative oncology practitioner who can prepare your body for the biopsy to help keep the cells intact with things like modified citrus pectin or scheduling biopsy/surgery and scans around menstrual cycle as your hormonal levels will impact results, and the likelihood of metastasis is higher if biopsy/surgery done during the estrogenic phase. 
                                               i.     Example:  Breast MRI, ultrasound, mammography or thermography is best between day 5 and 15 of menstrual cycle (day 1 is the first day of your period)
                                              ii.     Same holds true for any other biopsies or surgeries in menstruating women for any form of cancer
c.   Get a liquid biopsy to determine circulating tumor cell count and circulating fragmented cancer DNA along with molecular profile on actionable targets.  And use it often to assess your response to therapy and to monitor you AFTER completion of therapy.  This is an FDA approved, insurance covered test and validated for the following tumor types:
                                               i.     Lung
                                              ii.     Breast
                                             iii.     Gastric
                                             iv.     Colorectal
                                              v.     Prostate
                                             vi.     Melanoma
                                            vii.     Renal Cell (kidney)
                                           viii.     Ovarian
d.   You can also look into liquid assays to check for chemosensitivity and response to non-conventional therapies with RGCC out of Greece or BioFocus out of Germany
e.    I would also strongly consider the following tests to have as a baseline to assess your overall terrain and to bring to light triggers to your cancering process:  CBC with diff, CMP, GGT, Ferritin, CRP, Sedrate, LDH, Fibrinogen, Homocysteine, TSH, Total T4, Free T3, T3 Uptake, Thyroid Antibodies, 25-OH D3, HbA1C, Insulin, IGF-1, Serum Copper, Ceruloplasmin, Serum Zinc and any tumor marker testing appropriate to the cancer type.  This information will be useful to understand what patterns you carried prior to embarking on any treatment so you may start to address these drivers from the get go with other means like diet, lifestyle, supplements, etc. To learn more about testing I recommend Jenny Hrbacek, RN book:  “Cancer Free!  Are You Sure?”
f.     Assemble your team!  Your oncologist has likely had ZERO training in nutrition so VERY important to get a therapeutic nutritionist, who is well-versed in metabolic therapies/treatment with diet of cancer (this is often NOT a Registered Dietician RD).  You need someone to support your emotional body as well---a therapist, life coach, support group, or church.  And someone who can navigate the world of both conventional and alternative or integrative approaches such as an integrative naturopathic oncologist or someone well versed in how these paradigms should be woven together.
g.    And, take the Terrain TenTM Questionnaire at the front of our new book:  “The Metabolic Approach To Cancer” (available on Amazon here) to assess your terrain with regards to other exposures contributing to a cancering process.  The book can then guide you on how to make the changes necessary to support your whole terrain.
4)    And, once you have collected all the data, work with someone who can pull it all together and help create a focused plan of action that is specific to YOU! That might include conventional, non-conventional or combination treatments along with diet, herbs, supplements and lifestyle interventions to boost immune function, drive a cytotoxic (cancer cell death) process, encourage a metabolic overhaul, create better response to therapy and with less side effects while enhancing quality of life. 

Please know you are far more powerful than you are led to believe on this journey. Do your due diligence to take a thoughtful, researched approach to your wellbeing.  Know you are a divinely unique individual with particular epigenetic hiccups, biochemical processes and life circumstances that impact how you will respond to any given treatment and adjust accordingly.  And may you thrive, not just survive!

You can listen to Nasha being interviewed on our radio show here.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Horses Help with Healing

Today's blog comes from Sarah Stevens, Director of Spirit and Soul Equine Assisted Therapy Centre CIC, who's giving us an insight into how horses can aid rebalancing and help coping with a cancer diagnosis.

In May 2016 I was diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative breast cancer. I was 27 at the time, have limited family history of cancer and was very healthy and active. I was very lucky that I found the lump early. I was never one of those people that checked themselves, so I’m very grateful that it was in an easy to feel place. After mammograms, they found another lump in my breast, and at that point things got a little more serious. Following discussions, the treatment plan was 8 rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and then a bilateral oophorectomy. Alongside this I had fertility treatment and froze my eggs as I didn’t have children. 
I couldn’t really explain how it impacted me, as I seemed to just go into the mode of ‘let’s get on with it’. Everyone around me worried and panicked, and I just seemed to freeze. What a whirlwind really, happily going along with life; just bought my first house, had just secured a really good promotion, and then all change within the space of a day.
Whilst everyone around me was getting upset and emotional, I decided to go and sit in a barn with my horses, I spent a morning there as they just lay down with me. My 16hh horse had his head over my legs. They gave me the quiet time to be able to process this chaos I had just been plunged into.
 I started my treatment and along came all the side effects, and this is when I started to realise how fundamental my horses were in keeping me upbeat and happy through my journey. If you speak to anyone that knows me, they all say how well I dealt with it, I never once complained or moaned about it and I stuck to my routine as much as possible. My horses gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. They offered me an opportunity to be me still. This is something I found very powerful, as regardless of whether I had hair, breasts or felt ill, I was still me, and they treated me like I was. They were a place where I didn’t feel judged, or like everyone felt sorry for me (as I hated this). Then I started to realize that actually they were my therapy. They could immediately sense how I was feeling and they acted accordingly. If I was feeling stressed and angry they would put me in my place, if I was anxious they would push me, when I just needed peace that was my peace.
I started to explore what was out there for people using horses, and realised that horses can be used for therapy and learning. My background is working with people to help them facilitate change in their lives, so it made sense for me to help people using horses. I started to spend my time during chemotherapy, planning, training and starting this dream of mine, which would be to help people overcome obstacles in life using horses, especially those affected by cancer as this is close to my heart. I had seen the benefits if it personally, so asked myself ‘why can’t it work for others?’. I spent most of winter training the horses and ensuring they were safe to be working with people. A few days following my bilateral mastectomy, my organisation received its not for profit status, and a few weeks following my operation we moved to our amazing new countryside site in order to start work.
Helping other people overcome difficulties is so rewarding. One of my first cancer patients who I worked with was a 7 year old boy. Being able to offer him space to understand his emotions and his diagnosis was so fulfilling. My own experiences, although nothing in comparison to some, mean I can help and understand how people feel when faced with challenges. It also means that I don’t take a ‘softly-softly’ approach as I think people still need to be treated like people. What my journey and the journey of others has taught me is that most people’s underlying issues are the same, and when you take away the label (e.g. illness, disability, mental illness) people develop their core selves. This is equine assisted therapy is so effective, since horses don’t sense peoples ‘labels’, they sense the emotions and the feelings which deep down people need to work on. Horses act as a mirror to how we really feel. They are so incredibly sensitive and aware of how we are feeling and our intentions (sometimes more than we have recognized in ourselves), that they act as fantastic additional therapists. Horses allow us to uncover inner obstacles, explore these and the work on overcoming them.

What I’ve learnt from the last 18 months of my life:

  •       Life’s too short (cliché but true!), dare to dream, help others and enjoy life don’t waste any of it.
  •       Forget the word ‘ill’ or whatever label you have and work on being you.
  •       There is ALWAYS someone worse off than you. I was pretty lucky.
  •       Mind-set is everything, if you think you can cope and are fine you generally are. Don’t allow yourself to wallow in your own pity.
  •       Body parts are just body parts; you can lose a few and still function perfectly well.
  •       Be grateful for everything.
  •       Everyone needs horses in their lives!

Following my own journey and launching Spirit and Soul Equine Assisted Activity Centre CIC, we now work with a range of people, including people affected by cancer, offering equine assisted therapy to help them overcome challenges and obstacles in life.
If you would like to know more about any of the above, please feel free to contact the centre, who will be very happy to answer your questions.
They can be reached at 07837257813, or you can email them at You can also find out more on their website.