Restoring My gut health after I have Chemotherapy

Cancer Chemotherapy and its side effects are often more dreadful than the disease itself. Undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy is not an easy thing to deal with, and you will need several conversations with your doctor to understand the full extent of your therapeutic options.

The worst is over. Now you need to heal. Gut included.

So to make your choices easier you need to have a broad understanding about how it works and the adverse effects they may produce in your body.

Nothing can actually prepare a patient to face the shock of being diagnosed with cancer, but there’s something you can do to prepare your gut or restore your gastrointestinal health after chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

How chemotherapy affects your gut

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are both important components of cancer therapy, and they are subdivided into various classes, each one with a distinct mode of action. They contribute to destroying cancer cells and must be included in many cases of advanced-stage cancer, where there’s a high probability of metastasis or cancer cells have already taken adjacent areas and lymph nodes.

side effects chemotherapy

Every case is different, and your doctor will let you know when chemotherapy is recommended for you. He will also mention that chemotherapy may affect your organism in various ways, inducing diarrhea, for example. One of the mechanisms through which chemotherapy induces diarrhea is by creating an alteration to your gut microbiota. The side effects of chemotherapy are numerous and can be devastating!

Similar to what happens to cancer cells, these drugs are directly toxic to your healthy bacteria. They contribute to eradicating your gut microbiota by killing these microorganisms and may also compromise the metabolism of energy and cause severe inflammation in the intestinal lining. The intestinal bacteria that remain are often unable to produce co-factors and vitamins we usually create in the gut, and the effect appears to be in both ways because a significant alteration in gut microbiota is known to affect the outcomes of the patient and the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

This is why doctors may consider the use of probiotic foods and supplements before and after chemotherapy in an attempt to recolonize the lack of good bacteria in the stomach and gut and prevent serious gastrointestinal problems derived from chemotherapeutic drugs.

Probiotic foods and supplements after Chemotherapy

Recent science has uncovered the ability of the gut microbiota to influence the rest of the organism. The gut is directly associated with intestinal nerve terminals and a special type of immune tissue called gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT. Thus, an alteration in this balance is detrimental for your health and adds up to your problems when not properly addressed.

Research Probiotics in Cancer Treatments

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There are many potential benefits of probiotics in cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These benefits include:

  • An increased immunity: A healthy gut microbiota is associated with an improvement in immune function. This is a fundamental part of the prevention and treatment in cancer, and immune problems as a result of chemotherapy result in an increased risk of infections with life-threatening complications. In this regard, probiotics are known to improve these immune-related problems. For instance, it is known that they reduce the risk of infection after surgery in cases of colon cancer.

  • Reduction of irritable bowel symptoms: Probiotics are known to improve gut health in various ways, and this is not only true for regular patients. People under cancer treatment may also have plenty of benefits, including protection against inflammation and irritable bowel syndrome, a significant risk reduction against Helicobacter pylori, and much more. This is especially true in cases of colorectal cancer, but it is applied to all patients in general.

  • Reduction of episodes of diarrhea: One of the most severe consequences of antibiotics and chemotherapy in gastrointestinal health is diarrhea. It leads to significant weight loss, electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and severe nutritional problems that aggravate the patient and may contribute to a poor outcome. Probiotics stand as an excellent way to prevent drug-induced diarrhea as it populates the gut with healthy bacteria that won’t allow pathogenic bacteria to grow and overpopulate the gut.

  • Improving anxiety and depression: Patients under cancer treatment usually require some level of psychologic therapy to reduce the incidence of anxiety and depression. However, using probiotics may influence positively in their outcomes. The gut-brain axis is very complex and has plenty of interactions, but probiotics and mental health appear to be deeply linked, and there are apparent psychological benefits in consuming probiotics, including a reduction in anxiety and depressive symptoms.

  • Contributes to nutrition in late-stage cancer: Patients in late-stage cancer enter a state of metabolic waste called cachexia. This may be further aggravated by a reduction of healthy intestinal bacteria as a result of chemotherapy. Recent studies show that the modulation of gut microbiota may reduce the symptoms of cachexia, which include poor appetite, muscle weakness, chronic fatigue, and weight loss.

Which Probiotic strains should I use?

One of the most exciting aspects of probiotics is how versatile they are according to each condition and application. Each probiotic strain turns out to be better to improve different aspects of the immune response, the susceptibility to gastrointestinal disease, our mental health, and much more.

But in patients under chemotherapy, the most relevant probiotic strains are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum. You will find the most relevant effects of each one in the table below:

Effect on the patient’s health Effect in anticancer therapy
Lactobacillus Acidophilus Reduces the toxic effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy over the gastrointestinal and urinary system. Supports the anticancer effects of certain chemotherapeutic drugs, as in cisplatin.
Lactobacillus Rhamnosus Activates cytoprotective effects in the intestines and reduces toxicity of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Supports the anticance r effects of radiotherapy.
Reduces the toxic effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy over the gastrointestinal system. Has potent immunostimulant activity that promote innate antitumor activity in cancer patients.


Ichim, T. E., Kesari, S., & Shafer, K. (2018). Protection from chemotherapy-and antibiotic-mediated dysbiosis of the gut microbiota by a probiotic with digestive enzymes supplement. Oncotarget, 9(56), 30919.

Montassier, E., Gastinne, T., Vangay, P., Al‐Ghalith, G. A., Bruley des Varannes, S., Massart, S., … & Knights, D. (2015). Chemotherapy‐driven dysbiosis in the intestinal microbiome. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 42(5), 515-528.

Roy, S., & Trinchieri, G. (2017). Microbiota: a key orchestrator of cancer therapy. Nature Reviews Cancer, 17(5), 271.

Ouyang, X., Li, Q., Shi, M., Niu, D., Song, W., Nian, Q., … & Wang, J. (2019). Probiotics for preventing postoperative infection in colorectal cancer patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International journal of colorectal disease, 34(3), 459-469.

Sharif, M. K., Mahmood, S., & Ahsan, F. (2018). Role of Probiotics Toward the Improvement of Gut Health With Special Reference to Colorectal Cancer. In Diet, Microbiome and Health (pp. 35-50). Academic Press.

Kich, D. M., Vincenzi, A., Majolo, F., de Souza, C. F. V., & Goettert, M. I. (2016). Probiotic: effectiveness nutrition in cancer treatment and prevention. Nutricion hospitalaria, 33(6), 1430-1437.

Bindels, L. B., & Thissen, J. P. (2016). Nutrition in cancer patients with cachexia: A role for the gut microbiota?. Clinical Nutrition Experimental, 6, 74-82.

Pirbaglou, M., Katz, J., de Souza, R. J., Stearns, J. C., Motamed, M., & Ritvo, P. (2016). Probiotic supplementation can positively affect anxiety and depressive symptoms: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Nutrition research, 36(9), 889-898.

About Simon Bendini 78 Articles
Hello, I'm an expert in all things Probiotics. I also live and breathe what I write about: I take Probioitcs EVERY day. I want to help you discover the benefits of them too. Enjoy my humble site.

1 Comment

  1. I truly appreciate this post. I have been looking everywhere for this, my mom had chemotherapy last year and survived but now has a really bad leak gut. Thank goodness I found something. You’ve made my day! Thx again


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