Monday, October 3, 2011

The Chemo Diet

The Chemo Diet
‘The Chemo Diet’ is a plan I used to support my body through chemotherapy using a combination of juicing, diet, exercises, meditation and allowed supplements. This plan is uncomplicated as all foods and supplements are widely available and do not require any professional consultation.  As a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner studying naturopathy I felt I had enough knowledge to guide me through the chemotherapy process and manage the side effects without using anything that would conflict with treatment.  My motivation for putting this in a blog is simply to inform others in similar situations what worked for me. It does not constitute advice or recommendations and you should consult your medical practitioner should you wish to follow this diet.

My Story
At 25, I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart). It is suspected that a virus caused this as I had no history of any heart complications.  My prognosis was poor – any worse and I would be on the heart transplant list.  To complicate matters, I developed Graves’ disease (a hyperactive thyroid).  My poor health led me to explore many natural healing methods and eventually return to university to study health sciences and qualify as a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner.
My health began to improve and with time, I was well enough to bear 3 healthy children (including twins!). It was at the end of breastfeeding my twins that I discovered a lump in my breast, which was diagnosed as a fibroadenoma. Three years later at age 41, I discovered this was not the case – I actually had grade 1 breast cancer, which had spread to my lymph nodes. It was recommended that I have an immediate mastectomy and lymph glands removed.
There are many alternative methods out there to combat cancer – unfortunately I could not be certain of the results, whereas western medical therapy although difficult, can provide statistics to support the efficacy of treatment. I decided that I would use western medicine but add approved complementary therapies to give my body the best possible opportunity to combat the more negative short and long term side effects of treatment.
Post surgery, I did everything I knew to cleanse and heal my body prior to bone and body scans.  Whether or not this had any impact, of course is unknown although I certainly felt better knowing I was supporting my body with herbs, antioxidants, juices and a very healthy diet.  Fortunately, the scans were clear and the oncologist’s view was to use chemotherapy and radiation to eliminate any other cancer in my body.
Again, I considered the options, but decided the proven statistics would help keep my fear, and everyone else’s, at bay. I also knew that I could offset at least some of the side effects with what I knew about natural health.

What Chemotherapy Does to Your Body
My understanding of the effect of chemotherapy is that of a layman and not a medical practitioner.  I am also aware that there are many different types of chemotherapy drugs and the method of delivery varies, as does the timing.  

Chemotherapy works by killing cells that are rapidly dividing, such as cancer cells. As well as killing cancer cells, chemotherapy also kills normal cells that are rapidly dividing.  However, unlike cancer cells, normal cells can repair the damage and recover.  The main areas that are affected by chemotherapy are the mouth, stomach and bowel (gut), skin, hair and bone marrow. This explains the side effects of the treatment, the most common being:
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhoea and constipation
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Skin dryness or reactions
  • Mood changes
  • Feeling vague and a loss of mental clarity (commonly referred to as ‘chemobrain’)

Using Complementary Therapies with the Chemo Diet
Complementary therapies can be used to alleviate many of the side effects of chemotherapy.  As well as following the Chemo Diet, I would recommend the following:
Meditation – Meditation is a way of calming and supporting the mind. The process of cancer treatment can provoke anxiety, depression, helplessness and anger. Meditation for simply 15 minutes each day can profoundly improve these symptoms. There are many types of meditation and visualisation that can be explored, but you may find the physical meditation from ‘Getting into the Vortex’ by Esther Hicks particularly beneficial and easy. This is available to purchase, with free postage, on
Qigong – qigong is a type of exercise used in Traditional Chinese Medicine used to build energy, and calm and open the mind. The movements are easy, gentle and can be used by anyone without supervision. It is recommended that you use ‘Sun and Moon’ 30 - 50 times (link to be added) twice daily in the first and third stages of the Chemo Diet with ‘The Horse Stance’ exercise for 5-10 minutes twice daily in the second stage ( Click on the following link to view these exercises.
Acupuncture – Acupuncture is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to balance and build energy, as well as calm the mind.  It is safe and approved as a complementary medicine to be used with cancer treatment.  Acupuncture is very beneficial to support the body during the first and second stages of the chemotherapy cycle, when administered by an accredited practitioner. Other treatments can also be used specifically for anxiety, nausea and vomiting, fluid retention and hot flushes. To find accredited practitioners, visit the relevant Professional Acupuncture Association website for your country.
Reiki – Reiki is a form of ‘hands on healing’ which is administered by practitioners or laymen who have learnt the process in workshops.  It is particularly energising and balancing and can be done at anytime, although I found it particularly beneficial just before each chemotherapy session. For further information look at
Stages of the Chemotherapy Process
As I experienced the chemotherapy process, I was able to observe the three different stages my body went through after a dose of chemotherapy. I found that I could adjust my diet at each stage of the process to manage the symptoms and minimise the side effects. 
Each dose of chemotherapy can be divided into three stages:
Stage 1
After intravenous chemotherapy, your body will be doing its best to eliminate what it interprets as poisons or toxins.  The liver and kidneys will be under particular stress as they attempt to filter the chemotherapy from the bloodstream.
Foods and juices that support these organs as they remove toxins from the bloodstream are recommended to reduce fatigue, nausea, vomiting and other gut symptoms. Reducing toxic load at this stage is particularly important to minimise symptoms later in the cycle and reduce the long term side effects of chemotherapy.
Stage 2
Rapidly dividing cells are now being killed quickly, which promotes the desired result of killing cancer cells. It can also mean continued fatigue, gastrointestinal symptoms as well as added muscle and bone aches as the bone marrow begins to be affected. This stage includes the peak or ‘nadir’ of the chemotherapy process where your body’s immunity is taken to its lowest. 
Foods and juices at this stage transition to those that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to support the immune system and so reduce the possibility of inflammation and infection.
Stage 3
The body is now moved into recovery stage, where the attack on the cells has passed its peak.  The body attempts to return to normal on all levels. 
Foods and juices that support immune system recovery, skin and hair health and gut repair are recommended at this stage.
The length of the stages will vary, depending upon the length of your chemo cycle.  For example, for intravenous chemotherapy delivered every three weeks, with the ‘nadir’ at day 10 or 11:
  • stage 1 is days 1 to 7
  • stage 2 is days 8 to 14, and
  • stage 3 is days 15 to 21
Preparation for Chemotherapy
Prior to chemotherapy, it is best to evaluate your diet and start removing those foods that increase digestive stress on your body. This will allow your body to start removing toxins prior to the added load of chemotherapy.
Start switching your diet from a more acidic diet to one that is more alkaline.  There are many who believe that nearly all diseases are related to being too acidic.  It has been found that yeast, bacteria, viruses and cancer thrive in an acidic environment and cannot live in an alkaline one. If a food contains more sodium, potassium or calcium, it is an alkaline food, and if it contains more sulphur, phosphate or chloride it forms an acid food. 
There is much literature to support this approach, but basically it means reducing animal protein, coffee, alcohol and sugars in favour of more vegetables, specific fruits, soy and nuts. To view a list of acid/alkaline foods and access other alkalising resources refer to the following link:
 It is best to remove the following from your diet 3 weeks prior to chemotherapy:
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Fried foods and ‘bad’ fats
  • Sugar
  • Preservatives, additives, flavourings and colourings
Where possible, buy organic food.  Always look for fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables and aim to have a diet that is two thirds alkaline (the majority of that should be vegetables). The diet for the system is gluten free for the majority of the cycle, so it may be useful to trial gluten free options during this time. Also try:
  • Meditation (recommended 15 minutes a day)
  • Gentle exercise and rest
  • Juicing to boost your immune system prior to treatment – 6 days on, 1 day off (see Juice Recipe 1)
Juice Recipe 1.
This will make enough juice to last for two days. Consume in quantities of around 230mL four times a day on an empty stomach, to maximise absorption of nutrients.
16 medium carrots
4 medium lemons
8 medium apples
2.5cm square ginger root

The Chemo Diet uses juices and diet to combat side effects.  In addition most Oncolologists will allow a daily multivitamin, probiotics and fish oils but will not allow other supplements, herbs or excessive juicing as this could affect the chemotherapy. During the chemo diet, take supplements as follows:
  • good quality multivitamin in the morning
  • dairy free probiotic capsule before each meal, and
  • minimum of 4 high potency fish oil capsules (approx 1200mg EPA and 800 DHA)  or equivalent in flaxseed oil capsules (if vegetarian). Take 2 capsules with lunch and 2 with dinner.

The Chemo Diet Plan
This diet includes low allergenic, easily digestible foods and juices that support the body at each stage of chemotherapy.  Some foods are reduced or eliminated, although you can have them occasionally as long as you stick to the diet about 95% of the time. In the last 3-4 days (depending on your cycle) you can indulge in small amounts of whatever you like, whilst sticking to the diet 70% of the time.
The Chemo Diet is based on a 3 weekly cycle of chemotherapy. It should be modified to accommodate the length of each cycle.

Foods to avoid during the Chemo Diet
Gluten – Gluten is in wheat, rye, oats, barley, spelt and malt.  Generally gluten is over-consumed in modern diets and can cause digestive upsets, constipation, diarrhoea, headaches and bloating in normal individuals. It is particularly disruptive when the lining of the gastrointestinal tract is being destroyed by chemotherapy. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, gluten causes the energy in the digestive system to slow down and stagnate and is the culprit behind many digestive diseases. There are now many tasty gluten free options available at the supermarket, which will not compromise nutrition.
Dairy Products (from cows) – Although high in calcium, many people are lactose intolerant or have allergies to dairy products from cows.  These products may also be contaminated with hormones, pesticides, dioxins, antibiotics and other drug residues. Milk proteins are often hard to digest resulting in digestive upsets, and high dairy intake has been linked to many cancers (see The China Study, T. Campbell PhD). TCM also believes that dairy causes stagnation of energy and phlegm or mucus build up in the digestive system.

The daily requirement of 800mg of calcium per day can be achieved in this diet by consuming tofu, goats cheeses, calcium fortified rice milk, soy milk and yoghurt, green leafy vegetables and nuts. Click on the following link to view a list of calcium rich foods:
The following link contains information on cancer and consumption of soy products:
Bad Fats – The American Institute for Cancer Research indicates that recent studies suggest large quantities of saturated fats can increase the risk of cancer.  Transfatty acids are also dangerous and levels should be checked on any processed foods.
Coffee interferes with the absorption of calcium and leaves a very acidic residue in the body.
Alcohol can interfere with absorption, storage and metabolism of the essential nutrients. It can also irritate the gut wall, especially during chemotherapy. Alcoholic beverages are high in sugars and regarded as acidic.
Nightshade vegetables are high in alkaloids, can promote inflammation in the body and interfere with calcium absorption. They are also generally regarded as acidic.  As your body’s immune system will be depleted, avoid vegetables in the nightshade family. These include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and capsicum. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, these foods are generally avoided.
Sugar – cancer cells have 15 to 30 times more glucose receptors than normal cells, and they feed on sugar to grow. Sugar also causes acidity in the body.
Man-made chemicals such as preservatives, additives, colours and flavourings can cause mild or major allergic reactions and provide no nutritional value.

Drinking adequate beneficial fluids is necessary to flush out chemotherapy toxins. The recommended amounts per day are:
Water – at least 1.5 litres of clean filtered water a day
Coconut water – 200-500mL per day. Coconut water rehydrates the body very quickly as it is high in electrolytes, especially potassium.  It is also low in calories.
Fresh juice – 700mL - 1 litre per day
Other juices – commercial juices (preferably sugar and preservative free) can be used on days when not juicing or in small amounts when juicing. Apricot nectar in particular is recommended as it is high in potassium, iron, calcium, vitamins A, B2, B3 and C. It is also beneficial for constipation. (Note that commercial Apricot Nectar often has added sugar.)
Why Juicing?
Juicing is a fast way of providing maximum nutrition to the body.  Plants incorporate minerals from the soil into their own tissues, so they are an excellent source of minerals.  However most minerals are bound with organic molecules and some of these compounds are so tight they cannot be absorbed by the body in the bound form.  For this reason, juicing is considered by some to be superior as it liberates the minerals (such as calcium from green leafy vegetables) from the fibre into a highly bio-available source. For those who are struggling with eating, it is also an excellent way of gaining maximum nutrition quickly and depending on the fruit and vegetables used, highly alkalising.
Large quantities of fruit juices can cause a significant increase in sugars, which can affect the body’s sensitive chemical balance. For this reason, the juices recommended are predominantly vegetable based with a small amount of fruit to make them palatable.  It is also recommended that you use a cold press juicer, as it will preserve the living enzymes and heat sensitive vitamins that can be destroyed by the heat generated in high speed juicing. The juices will also stay fresh for longer (up to 48 hours).
Stage 1 – Detoxify the Body

In Stage 1, your body is doing its best to eliminate toxins from the bloodstream via the liver and kidneys.  The gastrointestinal system is working very hard. You are likely to feel the most nausea at this stage.
This stage is divided into two parts, with the first few days concentrating on detoxifying the blood, followed by boosting the immune system.
In the first few days your body will be working very hard to remove the chemotherapy out of your system. It is recommended that you have a light digestive load.
Days 1-4
ELIMINATE or REDUCE the following from your diet:
Follow the general guidelines (no gluten, no dairy (except goat cheese), no coffee, no nightshades and no man-made chemicals).
Animal Protein  Use vegetarian protein substitutes such as organic non-genetically modified, fermented soy products and nut pastes and reduce animal proteins such as meat, dairy foods (from cows) and eggs. 
Inflammatory foods – Avoid oranges at this stage as the acid may upset your digestion. Lentils and beans may also cause flatulence and discomfort at this stage. Anything high in refined sugars (cakes, sweets, cordials, soft drinks) will also cause discomfort as yeasts and ‘bad’ bacteria in particular will multiply quickly in a weakened digestive system.
ADD foods and beverages from the following list to your diet:
It is beneficial to use foods that are not only anti-carcinogenic, but will help cleanse your liver, kidneys and blood. Aim for the equivalent of 4 cups of raw green vegetables in your day, but ensure that the majority is steamed, stir fried or in soups as you will find it hard to digest raw food at this time.
Organic, non GMO, fermented Soy Products – These are an excellent source of protein, calcium, essential fatty acids, fibre, phytosterols, lecithin and phytoestrogens (isoflavones).  Soybean consumption is thought to be one of the major reasons for the relatively low rates of breast and colon cancers and Japan and China. These products include tempeh, tofu, tofu sausages and tofu hotdogs.
Nut pastes – Almonds in particular are beneficial. These are a good source of beneficial oils, protein, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and Vitamin E.  They are also a good source of anti cancer flavonoids. Peanuts can induce allergic reactions and should be avoided and whole nuts may cause irritation at this stage.
Apricots, peaches and mangoes – Stewed, fresh or dried.  These are high in fibre, easy to digest, contain antioxidants and many vitamins and minerals.  They are also important as they promote the body’s serotonin production which will elevate your mood and may improve your sleep. Mangoes also contain a substance called Lupeol which counters inflammation and DNA damage.
Celery is good at stimulating the kidneys and aiding the elimination of waste via the urine, thus acting as a detoxifying agent. It also has a high concentration of water, electrolytes and a rich spectrum of other health enhancing minerals which will work together to restore the body’s acid-alkaline balance.
Cabbage is full of antioxidants and cancer fighting compounds, namely indoles and glucosinolates.  Indoles also help to deactivate oestrone, a dangerous form of oestrogen associated with breast cancer. Additionally, raw cabbage contains a substance called Vitamin U which heals stomach and duodenal ulcers.
Beetroot aids cell cleansing by increasing the liver’s production of detoxifying enzymes. Betacyanin, the pigment that makes beetroot red, has antiviral and antioxidant properties. Beetroot is also high in assimilable iron.
Collard or bitter greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, dark lettuces (rocket, radicchio and endives). These all contain the same anticancer properties as cabbages, but also have high amounts of calcium. They have historically been recommended in natural medicines and TCM to stimulate the liver and purify the blood.
Zucchinis are very alkaline, being 80-95% water. They are also high in potassium, carotenes and Vitamin C and have been proven to have high anticancer properties.
Lemons are high in antioxidant vitamin C, which helps to boost the immune system. They are also high in limonene, a chemical that has been shown to slow the rate of cancer growth. Lemons are also a liver stimulant. Although they have an acidic Ph, the effect it has on the body is alkalising, once subjected to a series of chemical reactions in the digestive system.
Green or white tea is full of antioxidants and with only a small amount of caffeine. (Black tea is okay although more than 4 cups a day may be too acidic.) Green and white tea have a particular class of antioxidants called polyphenols that protect against cholesterol, inflammation and tumour growth among others.
Dandelion coffee made from Dandelion root is a liver tonic and has been proven in clinical studies to improve the liver’s ability to clear potentially toxic agents
Note: Wheat grasses, barley grasses, spirulina and chlorella are also beneficial but may cause digestive upsets and would be classified as supplements at this stage. Check with your oncologist if you wish to take these.
In the elimination phase a juice that will support the liver and kidneys, alkalise the body and help cleanse the blood is recommended:
Juice Recipe 2.
300gms baby spinach leaves
1/6 medium cabbage
16 lemons
16 stalks celery without leaves.
This will make approximately 1.6 litres. Start consuming a few hours after receiving chemotherapy (day 1) and finish by the end of day 2.  Consume in 7 lots of 230mL, on an empty stomach.
You will then need it to repeat this recipe on day 3 and consume in the next day and a half, again in lots of 230mL on an empty stomach.

Days 5-7
By now, bloating and digestive disturbances should begin to ease. Continue with the original guidelines to gently detoxify the liver and kidneys but add foods from the following list to begin to support the immune system and energy levels.
You may ADD foods and beverages from the following list to your diet:
(Note:  Some of these foods are high in sugar and calories so only small portions are advised)
Fresh salmon (preferably wild and not farmed) – is the richest food source of a unique antioxidant called astaxanthin and is a very good source of fatty acids  (approx 100-130gms per serve).
Carrots (preferably juiced at this stage) – No other vegetable contains as much beta-carotene as carrots.  Beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A, which assists in improving eyesight and the functioning of the immune system, strengthening bones and teeth, and preventing possible problems with thyroid gland function. Vitamin A also has positive effects on our hair, nails and skin.
Oranges (preferably juiced at this stage) – Oranges are very high in Vitamin C and flavonoids. This makes oranges very beneficial to the immune system.  The consumption of orange juice has been shown to protect against cancer and viral infections
Dark Chocolate – (preferably over 70% cocoa). It is high in antioxidants including flavonoids. It is best eaten in small amounts.
Prunes provide antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, potassium fibre, iron and Vitamin A. The insoluble fibre in prunes provides food for ‘good ‘bacteria in the large intestine and helps maintain a healthy intestine.
Red grapes – contain flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants. They also contain reservatrol which is also anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory. They are also high in anthocyanins which are the antioxidant pigments that redden fruit and vegetables.
Pomegranates/juice/extracts – are an excellent source of flavonids, and are especially high in anthocyanins.
Blueberries – are high in anthocyanins.
Cherries – are also high in anthocyanins.
(Note that non-organic blueberries and cherries have high levels of pesticide residue, so avoid or wash well before eating.)
Sprouts (especially broccoli sprouts) – have ten to one hundred times antioxidants than their mature counterparts such as broccoli.
Goji Berries (check with your doctor whether Goji juice is okay as this maybe considered a supplement and too concentrated.)

Juicing is continued for days 5 and 6 with a day off from juicing on day 7:
Juice Recipe 3.
16 medium carrots
16 stalks celery (no leaves)
8 lemons
6 oranges
2.5 cm ginger root
This will last for the two day period. Consume in quantities of around 230mL four times a day on an empty stomach.

Stage 2 – Support the Immune System
At this stage your body’s immune system will be brought to its lowest point, or the ‘nadir’.  Since chemo kills healthy blood cells in addition to cancerous ones, this can result in low white or red blood cell counts, or low platelet counts. White blood cells fight infection, and their loss may result in a serious condition called neutropenia, which can weaken the immune system and make the body more susceptible to infection.
Neutropenia is not only dangerous but will also delay your chemotherapy as your cell counts will take longer to return to a normal range. 
As well as the high antioxidant foods now in your diet, the following foods should be introduced to support the production of these cells:

Days 8-11
Animal Protein – If you wish, you can introduce small amounts (no more than 130g/day) of (preferably) organic chicken. Chicken is a very good source of protein, niacin, selenium and vitamin B6.  It is best eaten in the form of chicken soup has it has been proven to improve white blood cell counts.
Increase green vegetables – Eat the equivalent of approximately 5 cups of raw (mainly green) vegetables per day. The amount has increased in this stage as there are no longer any greens in the juice.  Still lightly cook the majority of the vegetables (around 75%) as raw vegetables will still not be tolerated very well. You will find that 5 cups of leafy greens reduce to around one and a half cups when cooked.

Juice Recipe 4.
16 medium carrots
4 medium lemons
8 medium oranges
1 and 1/3 medium beetroot
2.5 cm ginger root
This will last for a two day period and is to be consumed in quantities of around 230mL four times a day on an empty stomach.  It will need to be repeated to last 4 days.

Days 12 – 14
Once the ‘nadir’ has passed, the body will begin building up red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells. It is important to provide the best foods to support this process as well as continue with the diet and juicing to ensure your body can fight infection.
Animal Protein – If you wish, you can introduce small amounts of organic beef 100-130g/day each day for three days to boost iron, zinc and vitamin B12.
Juicing is continued for days 12 and 13 with a day off from juicing on day 14:
Juice Recipe 5.
16 medium carrots
2 medium lemons
8 medium oranges
1 medium beetroot
2.5 cm ginger root
This will last for the two day period and is to be consumed in quantities of around 230mL four times a day on an empty stomach.

Stage 3 - Recovery
At this stage it is important to continue with foods that will return the body to its normal healthy state, so that you will be ready for the next round of chemotherapy

Days 15-18
Continue with all the foods mentioned with the following changes:
Animal Protein – If you wish, introduce small amounts of protein of choice (no more than 130g of animal protein per serve).
Green vegetables – 5 cups per day in total. Raw greens will now be better tolerated. Eat more of your green vegetables raw (up to 50%).
Nuts – whole nuts are better tolerated now.  Recommended are almonds and walnuts for their micronutrients , beneficial oils and antioxidants.  Walnuts are one of the few nuts that contain omega 3 fatty acids and alpha – linolenic acid which will also benefit the heart.  Keep the portions small (approximately 1/3 cup per day) as they are high in calories.

Juice Recipe 6.
16 medium carrots
4 medium lemons
8 medium apples
2.5cm square ginger root
Consume 230mL, 4 times a day on an empty stomach.

Days 19 - 21
Energy should be much improved by this stage.  You can relax your diet for three days and eat a few of those things you have been missing. But stick to the prescribed diet 70% of time if possible. 
No juice days 19, 20 unless desired
Day 21
In the day prior to the next chemotherapy, it is beneficial to juice:
Juice Recipe 7.
8 medium carrots
2 medium lemons
4 medium apples
1cm square ginger root
Consume 230mL, 4 times a day on an empty stomach.


Again, I remind those readers that this is simply my experience and what worked for me. My research for this was based on my own experience, reading and studies, and my motivation was simply to provide those who had asked for this information easy access.

If you have considered using this or part of it, please e-mail me with the link on this blog and let me know of your experience and if this has been of benefit.