Can diet affect the body’s response to cancer treatment?

Have you ever tried baking something and messed up a single step, only to have it ruin the entire dish? As with baking, it turns out even the littlest changes in what you eat can affect your health. In fact, changes to your gut’s microbiome can even affect how the body responds to things like chemotherapy drugs.

What is a microbiome?

Well, everyone has one. Each of our bodies contains trillions of microbes (often referred to as “good” bacteria) that help your body with all kinds of functions. Most of these microbes live in a pocket in your intestines. There, they are essential to digestion! In fact, your gut microbiome is essentially a whole extra organ inside your body! 

How does it affect your body’s response to medication?

In a recent study, scientists discovered the microbes that live in a person’s gut can change how they respond to chemotherapy. Things you eat every day can make chemotherapy drugs more effective or even less effective. The way things like amino acids interact with this gut bacteria can alter the toxicity of the drugs. Though scientists have observed this in the past, this study was the first time they were able to understand what happens at a molecular level.

Altering even a single microbe or amino acid could affect the toxicity and effectiveness of the drugs. In fact, diet can trigger changes that increase the toxicity of chemotherapy drugs by 100-fold. A single dietary change can change the metabolism of gut microbes, which may in turn dramatically alter the body’s response to such drugs. Truly, our bodies are amazingly complex!

Though more research is needed in this field, the results of this study are promising. Why? Well, they also suggest that with the proper nutrients and microbiome makeup, doctors may be able to improve patients’ treatment outcomes.

Does the microbiome affect other areas of health?

Other research suggests that your microbiome doesn’t just affect the body’s response to cancer treatment. Gut health has also been linked to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It may also play a role in liver health, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, inflammation, and obesity.

Though the above research is new info for cancer patients, anyone will benefit from a healthy microbiome. Scientists believe certain foods boost microbiome health while others have negative effects. If you’re experiencing stomach issues, it may be because your microbiome is having trouble processing the things you’re eating. Foods you may want to avoid include things like fried foods, sugary foods, highly processed foods, and alcohol. Your gut tends to have a harder time digesting these, so you may want to try cutting back on these and eating more fruit and vegetable snacks.

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