How to Combat Chemo-induced Fatigue

articles May 18, 2023

One of the most common side effects of chemotherapy is fatigue.

To help combat chemo-induced fatigue, here are my tips:

1. Eat whole, plant foods: Whole grains, legumes, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds are rich in numerous compounds to support our energy levels throughout the day. First, plants contain phytochemicals (or, plant chemicals) that support our mitochondria, also known as the ‘powerhouses’ of our cells. The mitochondria produce energy in the form of ATP to fuel our body. Plants are also rich sources of complex carbohydrates that slowly break down into glucose, which is the main source of fuel for our cells. And contrary to popular belief, glucose derived from whole foods does NOT feed cancer. Last but not least, plants are also the only source of dietary fibre, which feeds our healthy gut microbes and helps stabilize blood sugar levels,  thus preventing dips in energy levels throughout the day. 

2. Move your body: While this might sound counterintuitive, physical activity can actually increase your energy levels by getting the blood pumping! Aim for 75 minutes of vigorous or 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. What does that look like? It can be as simple as a daily 30-minute walk or 15 minutes of gentle rebounding on a mini trampoline. Strength training is also important to help maintain muscle mass and bone density. Listen to your body. 

3. Reduce stress levels: High stress levels and anxiety are linked with increased fatigue among cancer patients. To relieve anxiety or reduce stress hormones, we need to shift our nervous system into  parasympathetic mode, or the 'rest and digest' state where we feel cool, calm, and collected. To achieve this, we have to stimulate the vagus nerve, which innervates all of our organs. When it is stimulated, it calms the nervous system down. You can do this in various ways. One way is through breath work. I love 'box breathing', which involves inhaling through the nose for four seconds, holding your inhale for four seconds, exhaling through the mouth for (you guessed it!) four seconds, and again holding the exhale for four seconds. The vagus nerve can also be stimulated through pranayama breathing, cold plunges or showers, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, or raising your legs up on the wall for a few minutes. 

4. Herbal therapy: Consult with a credible herbalist to explore whether certain herbs might be beneficial for supporting your energy levels, such as Siberian ginseng or ashwagandha. You can also drink herbal teas for a gentle way to consume calming herbs, such as lemon balm tea. 

5. Rule out anemia: Fatigue can be caused by low iron levels, so be sure to speak with your doctor and have blood work done to rule out anemia.

And last but not least, remember that when addressed, most chemotherapy side effects are temporary. Restoring your health will take dedication and time, but you are in control and you CAN do it! 



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