Why Prebiotics Might Help During & After Cancer Treatment

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” – Hippocrates

Carefully Considering What You Eat May Help You Through Cancer Treatment and Beyond

With National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in full swing, there’s no better time to take a hard look at how treatment techniques during and after cancer have evolved and, in particular, how prebiotics may help.

warning signs of breast cancer chart

Cancer-related deaths in 2008 reached 7.6 million, or 13% of total morality worldwide. The American Cancer Society, in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries and the National Center for Health Statistics, estimate that annually there could be as many as 1.7 million new cancer cases and almost 600,000 deaths in the United States.1

Among the top cancer killers are colorectal cancer, prostate, lung, stomach, liver and breast cancer.

Breast Cancer alone will claim 40,000 women this year, although approximately 1,200 men will be in that number.2

Although advancements in surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy have been beneficial for many patients, death rates for most cancers remain high and adverse side effects still persist.

Researchers and other experts have been paying more attention to the functional role of good bacteria in the gut microbiome as it relates to cancer. Prebiotics and probiotics serve as the building blocks for a healthy gut and have proven useful as an adjunct therapy to cancer treatments.

Prebiotics and Chemotherapy

One of the common consequences associated with chemotherapy is the emergence of ulcerative lesions along the digestive tract. Chemotherapy can also disrupt the bacterial balance in the gut microbiome.3

Taking prebiotic supplements during and after chemotherapy may help reverse this effect by supporting the growth of probiotic bacteria like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Probiotic bacteria may help to inhibit the formation of cancer cells.4

Keep in mind that more than 70% of your entire immune system lives in your gut!  Strengthening your immune system is vital to helping your body’s natural defense mechanisms protect you.

Prebiotics can help relieve indigestion, which is another common side effect of cancer treatments. Colorectal cancer survivors, for example, are often left to deal with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Introducing probiotics into the diet of these survivors may help greatly improve their quality of life post-cancer.5

Prebiotics and Probiotics in Cancer Prevention

Prebiotics may support cancer prevention by inhibiting cancer cell formation by improving digestion and the overall environment of the gut microflora. They can also reduce the pH of the colon and help support the production of butyrate — a short chain fatty acid that has been linked to cancer cell apoptosis, or cell suicide.6

The Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition examines the known mechanisms of prebiotic action, and explores their potential for reducing the severity of chemotherapy-induced mucositis in the intestine,

“Mucositis, characterized by ulcerative lesions along the alimentary tract, is a common consequence of many chemotherapy regimens. Chemotherapy negatively disrupts the intestinal microbiota, resulting in increased numbers of potentially pathogenic bacteria, such as Clostridia and Enterobacteriaceae, and decreased numbers of “beneficial” bacteria, such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Agents capable of restoring homeostasis in the bowel microbiota could, therefore, be applicable to mucositis. 

Prebiotics are indigestible compounds, commonly oligosaccharides, that seek to reverse chemotherapy-induced intestinal dysbiosis through selective colonization of the intestinal microbiota by probiotic bacteria. In addition, the evidence is emerging that certain prebiotics contribute to nutrient digestibility and absorption, modulate intestinal barrier function through effects on mucin expression, and also modify mucosal immune responses, possibly via inflammasome-mediated processes.”3

To take advantage of this you can eat more foods that contain probiotics and prebiotics. Prebiotic food sources include chicory root, oatmeal, flax, barley, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, berries and other fruits, and onions.

Meanwhile, food sources of probiotics include: yogurt, fermented milk (kefir), buttermilk, miso, tempeh and certain soy drinks, fermented vegetables include kimchi and sauerkraut, certain soft cheeses and fermented black tea (Kombucha.)

Prebiotics Could Help…

You should also consider taking a prebiotic supplement to support your efforts. Taking a quality prebiotic supplement, backed by sound science, is an easy way of making sure you have enough prebiotic fiber that feeds your good probiotic bacteria in your diet without having to write everything down all the time.

circle of people celebrating breast cancer awareness

It often is even more difficult to feel like eating well, when you don’t feel well. However you choose to ingest them, maintaining high levels of prebiotics in your diet is a beneficial, therapeutic way to remove food-borne mutagens and carcinogens.

TIP from a survivor:

Always eat before your chemotherapy treatment. However, don’t eat any foods you really like! The reason is that whatever food you choose, will forever be associated with your treatment.  No one told me, so before my first treatment, I went to my favorite deli and had my favorite sour cream, salmon and onion omelet. Now it makes me nauseous, even 13 years after treatment, to even think about eating one. Darn!

My solution?  After that lesson, I chose foods that were ones that I wanted to give up or avoid, like a big fast-food cheeseburger and fries!  I won’t name a particular chain, but that temptation is over.

We want to hear from you! Share your stories, tips and advice with us on how Prebiotin has changed your life for the better.

Anne Mercer Larson, B.A., M.O.B.
Dir. of Marketing and Public Relations for Prebiotin

Prebiotin Prebiotic Fiber is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3669163/

2 http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-facts

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25162145

4 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.25011/full

5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21235278

6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2773329/

Additional List of Breast Cancer Resources
CDC: Cancer Prevention & Control
BCRF: Breast Cancer Research Foundation Resources
American Cancer Society: Survivorship Resource Center
Dana Farber Institute: Cancer Treatment & Resources
NIH: National Cancer Institute Resources for Patients
Be a Survivor: Your Guide to Breast Cancer Treatment
CTCA: Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Reminder: Please work with your oncology specialist to ensure that any supplements you take are appropriate for your cancer type, and will not conflict with any medications or treatments prescribed.

Leave a Reply