Two friends of mine are each helping relatives with breast cancer and they recently asked me what I’d suggest to reduce nausea and vomiting. These side effects frequently make patients stop eating, and can make life miserable. There are lots of strategies that can help, so let’s check out a few of them. These same strategies can also be helpful with motion sickness and pregnancy-related nausea.
First of all, before we look at different strategies, make sure you tell your oncologist about these symptoms or side effects. It is important that they are kept informed. Nausea and vomiting can occur while you are undergoing chemotherapy, but it can also rear its ugly head after you have finished treatment altogether. Your oncologist might suggest some anti-nausea medication to improve the situation for you. With chemo, these anti-nausea medications seem to work better if you take them before nausea even arises. It seems easier to stop it happening, rather than to try and stop it once it has started.
If you have finished treatment and nausea and vomiting (N+V) is continuing or has started a few months later, again it is important to tell your oncologist so they can investigate what might be the cause.
Here are 12 other strategies that can help with N+V, in addition to or instead of anti-nausea drugs. These are also useful for other causes of nausea and vomiting such as travel/motion sickness and nausea associated with pregnancy. Give some a try and let me know how you get on.
- Avoid hot foods and eat them at room temperature instead. As I discussed in a previous post on the temperature of food, often the smell of food cooking is what causes nausea, rather than the taste. If someone is helping with your cooking and meal preparation, try to be out of the house when food is being cooked, or in another room. Store the prepared food in the fridge and bring it to room temperature when you’re ready to eat it – you’ll be able to enjoy it without all the smells.
- Certain foods can help with nausea. The best studied food is ginger so think about adding some to foods or snacks. Low sugar ginger cookies and ginger chews can be so soothing for the stomach. Try this easy healthy recipe for ginger bliss balls. Other anti-nausea foods include cilantro, pumpkin seeds, and squash seeds. Either include these in a meal or snack on them to try and improve your appetite and N+V.
- Herbal teas can be very effective. Try ginger, peppermint, or chamomile teas as examples. And don’t feel you have to limit yourself to one tea bag or one flavor per cup. Try making a cup of peppermint/chamomile tea by adding a bag of each; you’ll get more effect and might even enjoy the combined flavors better. Or look for blends like this ginger chamomile tea or this stomach ease option with ginger and peppermint. Don’t underestimate the power of tea: their calming effects can also help to relax you.
- Drink plenty of fluids during the day, but not during meals. Keeping hydrated is especially important if you are vomiting.
- Try drinking liquid foods, like smoothies and soups, through a straw instead of using a spoon. This will bypass some of the taste buds and can help reduce nausea. Remember, hot foods taste hotter through a straw so let soups, etc. cool a little bit before slurping them up!
- Try an acupressure bracelet that applies pressure to the wrist’s anti-nausea acupressure point. I love Psi-bands for this as they are adjustable, and you can dial in the right amount of pressure for you. They also come in some nice designs too. Here are the Psi-bands.
- If you need to rest shortly after eating, make sure you keep your head higher than your feet so don’t lie down fully.
- Eat meals slowly and go with more frequent, but small meals. Keeping some food in your stomach seems to be more settling than getting hungry. You might find that you can tolerate bland food better than spicy foods at this time.
- Avoid your favorite meals. It seems counter-intuitive, I know. You might think that having your favorite meal or food will be just what you need to set yourself straight again, but I’m afraid it rarely happens. Instead, your expectations are raised and when your favorite meal doesn’t help with your nausea and vomiting, it too becomes associated with feeling ill – leaving you feeling even more deflated and developing a dislike for your old favorites. Instead, save those special meals for when your symptoms and appetite have improved.
- Put some dry crackers at your bedside and eat a couple before you get up in the morning or after a nap.
- Try listening to guided imagery for reducing nausea. There are some free recordings online or downloadable ones you can purchase.
- Fresh air and mild physical activity can help prevent nausea so if you can, sit outside, or next to an open window, or take a short stroll.
Don’t worry if some of this goes against how you normally eat or want to eat. This is just for the interim period until your symptoms subside.