Image Source: MorgueFile / Flying Pete

Image Source: MorgueFile / Flying Pete

Why Chemo Causes Constipation

I get some very interesting questions sometimes as a breast cancer coach and today one of my clients asked a very good question: “Why does chemo cause constipation?”

Being the naturally inquisitive sort, I looked into this when I was going through chemotherapy, I wondered the same thing.  I could understand the digestive changes because chemotherapy drugs are targeting all of the rapidly growing and dividing cells, which is one of the reasons our mouths and digestive tracts and even hair suffer the effects of certain chemo drugs – they are lined with rapidly dividing, quick growing cells.

Certain Chemotherapy Drugs Cause Constipation Because…

For one thing, a certain class of chemotherapy drugs called vinca alkaloids affect the nerve supply to the gut.  Vinca alkaloids are a class of cell cycle-specific specific drugs that work by reducing the ability of cancer cells to divide.  These compounds include vinblastine, vincristine, vindesine and vinorelbine.  If you want to know more about how these drugs work, just look them up on Wikipedia, there is a lot of really interesting information about them there.

To complicate matters, some of the painkilling drugs (especially morphine based drugs) and anti-nausea meds that are prescribed just make the constipation problem worse.

Some Helpful Suggestions for Chemo Induced Constipation

  • Eat foods high in fiber like whole grains, vegetables and some fruits (see my compote recipe below);
  • Drink plenty of filtered water and freshly prepared juices each day (some doctors will rule against fresh fruit and vegetables for certain kinds of cancer treatments);
  • Exercise for 20-30 minutes – things like yoga, tai chi and walking are highly recommended;
  • See my article Natural Remedies for Chemo-Related Constipation for the recipe for one very effective herbal remedy you can either make yourself or have a naturopath mix up for you (scroll down the page for that recipe, it’s toward the bottom under Constipation Herbal).  See also the great recipe for Prune, Fig & Raisin Tea on that page.

Date, Apple, Prune & Apricot Compote Recipe

I used this recipe and found it absolutely delicious and very helpful for chemo induced constipation.  You need 2 organic apples, about 10 organic prunes (pitted), 3 organic dates, 5 organic apricots and about 1/2 cup filtered water.  Wash the apples and cut them into wedges, leaving the skin on (removing the seeds).  Place the wedges in a saucepan with water, prunes, dates and apricots.  Cover with a lid and place over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and simmer for around 3-4 minutes, remove the lid and stir the fruit up.  Cook the fruits just until soft and serve warm.  Sprinkle with freshly ground flaxseed or soaked chia seeds.

When to Seek Medical Help for Constipation

If you are constipated for more than 3 days, tell your doctor or nurse.  If you are having sharp abdominal pains, a fever, an inability to pass gas, nausea and vomiting (which admittedly can be caused by the chemotherapy drugs themselves but if it seems to be related to your constipation), or your stomach is distended and feels hard to the touch, get in to see your doctor right away.

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