Fatigue is the most common and debilitating symptom experienced by patients suffering from cancer. Approximately 30% of survivors report moderate to severe fatigue that may persist for up to 10 years after their treatment concludes. This disabling symptom can impact work, social relations, and daily activities, leading to diminished overall quality of life.
The occurrence of fatigue is often due to damage or dysfunction in the nervous, immune and gastrointestinal systems. Supporting each of these systems with the right micronutrients is a necessary component for recovery.
Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is characterized by constant physical and/or mental tiredness that is unrelated to activity and not relieved by rest. These symptoms can also be accompanied by depression, insomnia and cognitive impairment, which is often poorly addressed by most oncologists.
Several mechanisms can be responsible for CRF including immune dysfunction, infection, impaired digestion, and mitochondrial damage. All of these issues need to be properly addressed in order to restore optimal health. Proper nutrition, gentle exercise and a comprehensive supplement program are the best place to start..
Chemotherapy Drugs Linked to Mitochondrial Toxicity
Side effects of many common chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer, as well as radiation therapy, have been shown to directly damage nerves resulting in a painful condition known as peripheral neuropathy. Chemotherapy and radiation may also contribute to fatigue and decreased cognitive function, referred to as “chemo brain”, by damaging the part of the cell (mitochondria) which produces energy.
Treatment Options for Alleviating Fatigue
Because patients who have previously undergone cancer treatment with either chemotherapy or radiation may be suffering from mitochondrial damage, it makes sense to help rebuild healthy mitochondria with the following nutrients:
Studies have shown that patients suffering with chronic fatigue can improve with supplementation of mitochondrial nutrients and antioxidants, including acetyl-L carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). This triad of key nutrients has been shown to reduce damage to mitochondrial membranes, restore energy production, protect cellular structures from oxidative damage, and decrease fatigue. Other antioxidants such as B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin E may also help restore healthy mitochondrial and immune function.
Curcumin, the most active ingredient found in the spice turmeric, has been shown to exhibit powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, support the body’s detoxification pathways and strengthen the immune response. Evidence from preclinical studies has shown that curcumin may help prevent or treat several types of cancers, including prostate, breast, skin, and colon cancer. Because absorption of this compound is limited due to its low water solubility, intestinal instability and rapid elimination, selecting a curcumin supplement with strong bioavailability is particularly important for this phytonutrient.
Cancer therapies can significantly alter healthy bacteria in the gut that promote digestion and healthy immune function. This can contribute to symptoms such as depression, brain fog and headaches that often accompany cancer treatment.
Taking a daily probiotic supplement, along with eating a diet rich in food-based probiotics (unsweetened yogurt, kefir, and other fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut), may be helpful in replenishing the important balance of beneficial bacteria often destroyed during chemotherapy treatment.
Limited pharmaceutical options currently exist for CRF. Low doses of stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall are frequently used off-label by oncologists to help cancer patients continue functioning despite fatigue. In one study, patients experienced a substantial improvement in fatigue with 10-20 mg of methylphenidate (generic Ritalin) per day.
Supporting the health of your mitochondria may help alleviate the debilitating fatigue associated with breast cancer treatment. Combining mitochondrial support nutrients plus a low-dose stimulant medication, may help boost energy levels and decrease symptoms of brain fog.