How to Reduce Nausea When You Have Cancer
Written by Meredy Birdi on 3rd January 2018

Around half of people undergoing treatment for cancer will suffer from nausea or vomiting at some point during their illness and this can be extremely debilitating. There may be many different reasons why you feel sick and it is important to discuss your symptoms with your Doctor or Nurse so they can advise on appropriate treatment.

Although you may not feel like eating, trying to keep well hydrated and giving your body the nutrients it requires can help you cope better both physically and emotionally with the effects of cancer and cancer treatment.

Dietary Tips For Improving Nausea 

• Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day i.e. 5 - 6 small meals a day rather than 3 large meals. 

• Avoid strong smells or cooking smells if they put you off eating. Cold foods such as vegetables and dip, hummus, terrine, mousse, cubed pineapple, sliced banana, yoghurt and cottage cheese may be more appealing as they have less of an aroma.

• Try eating some dry foods such as toast, crackers, oatcakes, coconut curls, vegetable crisps, breadsticks or rice cakes. Reduce gastric irritants such as alcohol, caffeine, spicy, greasy, fatty or fried foods. 

• Drink well and replace lost fluids. Sip fluids continuously throughout the day. Try water with a slice of lemon, mineral water or soda water. Teas such as ginger, chamomile, fennel, nettle, cinnamon and peppermint tea can be taken hot and are also nice cold. If you have been sick, it is extremely important to replace lost fluids. Choose fluids with electrolytes (natural salts and minerals) such as vegetable juices, broth and coconut water. Avoid taking lots of fluid just before a meal, as this is likely to make your nausea worse. 

• Sucking on frozen fruit e.g. pineapple, berries, lemon or lime can help to refresh your palate and help to hydrate you. If your mouth is sore or sensitive to cold temperatures then this suggestion may not be beneficial. 

• Accept offers of help. Family members and friends are often keen to help in any way they can. Allowing them to prepare food for you at times when you are feeling less well can be a big help. Consider batch cooking at your better times and freezing for future use, using a slow cooker, or buying pre-cooked meals. Natural Tips For Improving Nausea 

• Get some fresh air before meals. If you can’t manage a short walk, try sitting by an open window before eating. 

• Ginger helps to neutralise stomach acid and contains phenols that can relax stomach muscles and reduce irritation. Try adding freshly grated ginger to your favourite dishes such as a small bowl of porridge, soup, smoothies, snacks or desserts. Ginger ‘shots’ are a quick and easy way to add ginger to your diet. You can make your own at home (ginger, lemon juice and a dash of water) or you can buy them. Try Pret, Waitrose, Purearth, James White and Moju. Dilute them with still or sparkling water for a longer drink. Sip homemade ginger tea (recipe below) or try one of these lovely organic teas - Pukka Three Ginger, Yogi Ginger, Yogi Stomach Ease or Clipper Lemon and Ginger. RECIPE Ginger Root Tea Slice a large root of ginger into thin slices and boil in 500ml of water (in a pan with the lid on) for 15 minutes. Leave to cool in the pan then strain. This keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days. Mix 1:1 with fresh hot water and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice and raw honey (or natural sweetener) to taste. The concentrated mix can also be taken as a cold drink - dilute with still or sparkling water. 

• Peppermint oil may help to relieve nausea through the effects of menthol and other compounds. Try drinking peppermint tea or using a peppermint essential oil - apply a couple of drops to a tissue and inhale. Or use an essential oil diffuser and vaporise the peppermint oil into the room you are sat in. Note: if you suffer from heartburn or indigestion, peppermint can make this worse for some.

• Swedish bitters contain berberine, which stimulates the production of digestive enzymes to improve digestive function and can also help with nausea. If you would like to try Swedish Bitters, I recommend that you check with your Pharmacist first to make sure there are no contra-indications with any medications you are taking. Look for alcohol free brands preferably, such as Natures Best and Flora.

• Herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm and turmeric have traditionally been used to alleviate nausea. Try drinking a cup or two (hot or cold) throughout the day to increase your liquid intake and potentially reduce nausea. 

• Complementary therapies such as acupuncture, aromatherapy and relaxation therapy may help, especially in controlling anticipatory nausea and vomiting. Make sure your therapist is fully aware of your medical diagnosis and suitably qualified to treat you. 

• Anti-sickness bracelets, acupressure bands and Seabands can help to control feelings of sickness for some. They apply pressure to specific parts of the body, usually the wrist. You can buy them from Chemists, Amazon UK and eBay. 

• Reduce stress where possible. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, reducing gastric secretions leading to nausea and reduced digestive function. 

• Take a bath in Epsom salts to help you to relax, which may help with nausea. Try adding a drop or two of lavender, ginger, bergamot or peppermint essential oil. Important note: If you are currently undergoing cancer treatment, please check with your healthcare provider that it is safe to use essential oils in your bath water. If you are feeling less well, for safety it is best to bathe when somebody else is at home with you, or try an Epsom salt foot soak instead. 

Meredy Birdi

BSc (Hons) Dietetics, NT Dip, mBDA, mBANT, mNNA, HCPC Registered, CNHC Registered
Meredy is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach with more than 18 years experience supporting the nutritional and emotional needs of people with cancer. 
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