Cancer, Chemo + Weight Gain: A Naturopath’s Perspective

First Things First.

Naturopath [nach-er-uh-path]:

A naturopath is a trained doctor that specializes in alternative forms of medicine. Without using traditional drugs and treatments, naturopaths focus on the overall wellness of their patients. This includes treatment options such as: diet, exercise, and herbal/natural medicines.

Whats the big idea?

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding cancer treatment (like chemotherapy) and weight loss/weight gain. The overarching misconception is that the side-effects of chemo makes you lose weight. But there are a lot of other treatment options that prove otherwise, particularly steroids and hormone treatments.

So we asked Dr. Jill Shainhouse, a fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology, her thoughts on the treatment and weight conversation. In her practice, Dr. Shainhouse found an increase in weight gain amongst her breast cancer patients going through treatment. Here were some of the reasons why:

  • Sudden Menopause: One of the main side-effects of breast cancer treatments like chemotherapy and endocrine therapy is early menopause. With this comes sudden hormone changes and sluggish metabolism.
  • Cravings: Another side-effect during chemotherapy is cravings for “comfort food,” which typically aren’t the most nutritional.
  • Feeling Nauseous: One of the main ways patients decrease nausea during chemotherapy treatment is eat more carbohydrates (because it’s most tolerable food group).
  • Reducing Exercise: There are many side effects to cancer treatment that discourage someone from exercising, like neuropathy, fatigue, and nausea to name a few.

Keys to managing fitness goals post-treatment:

Remain Mindful

Not only does Dr. Shainhouse recommend being mindful when it comes to choosing healthier options and proper portion sizes, but she also recommends remaining mindful by remembering the source of the weight gain. Recognizing that it’s not your fault and that you don’t have control over the side-effects of your treatment is crucial to moving forward.

Exercise Regularly

Finding ways to exercise during and after treatment are really important. Dr. Shainhouse recommends both cardiovascular activities (like running, biking, etc.) as well as resistance/weight training for the most holistic fitness approach.

Avoid Eating After Dinner

It’s best to avoid eating after you’ve had dinner because your metabolism slows down at night. But, if you need to, it’s best to snack on veggies or small amounts of fruit.

Introduce Nutritious Foods

Stay away from processed foods, refined sugars, and increased alcohol consumption (which has been linked to an increased breast cancer risk).

Instead, focus on increasing your intake of:

  • FIBRE-RICH FOODS to help support digestion.
  • LOW GLYCEMIC INDEX CARBOHYDRATES + FRUITS like sweet potatoes, squash, quinoa, steel cut outs, berries, apples, and pears.
  • BRASSICACEAE FAMILY VEGETABLES like broccoli, kale, cabbage, and brussel sprouts to support sulforaphane intake (a compound found in vegetables that may help prevent recurrence). 
  • OMEGA-3 FATS like fatty fish, flax, chia and hemp seeds, almonds, walnuts, and brazil nuts.

Dr. Shainhouse is a certified member and fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology. She has 12+ years of experience in her field and is one of only Naturopathic Doctors in Ontario to have the highest standard of training in naturopathic oncology.  She is the owner and director of Insight Naturopathic Clinic in Toronto.

Click here to get a nutritionist’s take on cancer, chemo + weight gain.

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