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  • Writer's pictureErin Benner

You've Got Guts: Supporting Your Microbiome During Treatment

At the risk of sounding like my first grader, I’m going to talk about 💩 here.

Many of my clients want to know how to help their microbiome during treatment, and fix their constipation or diarrhea. Dietitians are amazing at getting you better poops because it starts with what you eat…and what the microbes eat! The microbiome refers to the community of microorganisms that live within and on our bodies. These microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms, and they play a critical role in our health. The microbiome is most commonly associated with the gut, where it can have a profound impact on digestion, immune function, and overall health

Cancer treatments have a number of unpleasant side effects but changes in your bowel routine or how and when you poop, can be incredibly uncomfortable. Radiation in the lower stomach area (like prostate, uterine, colorectal cancer) can cause diarrhea and irritation, anti-nausea medications can cause constipation or increased frequency of poops, chemotherapy can inflame the gut and impact routine, comfort and frequency, hormone therapy can slow the system and cause constipation. Sometimes changes in your bowel routine can last past when treatment ends or be an issue before it even starts!

Here’s how you can start supporting your microbiome.

Feed the ‘bios with Fibre. Beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus can lessen treatment side effects. They thrive on plant fiber, sometimes called prebiotics. Choosing foods that are a source of soluble fiber will nourish your microbiome as well as improve bowel movements.

It’s important to know the type of fibre you eat can impact diarrhea and constipation. During treatment you want to focus more on soluble fibre and resistant starch. Eat more oats, barley, lentils, beans, potatoes, squash, rice, cauliflower, oranges, apples, bananas, blueberries and raspberries. This fibre holds water and softens poop. Eat less raw vegetables and salad greens, these are higher in insoluble fibre and too much can make things worse! Greens are best served in a smoothie, soup or dried as an addition to protein powder. If you aren’t used to eating a lot of fibre on a daily basis start incorporating fibre rich foods ¼ cup at a time or 1-2g of additional fibre per meal. This will help avoid uncomfortable gas.

Resistant Starch is formed when certain starchy foods, such as potatoes or rice, are cooked and then cooled. The cooling process causes some of the starch to become resistant to digestion

Try cooking starchy foods like potatoes, pasta and rice and then cooling them. This can increase the resistant starch content, so leftover rice, pasta, even potato salad is a good source of resistant starch.

I often get asked about Metamucil. It’s a fibre supplement you can add to water. Metamucil or similar products can help you get a few extra consistent grams of fibre. For most people it can help with bowel routines. Talk to your healthcare team to see if its right for you.

Introducing new probiotics to your microbiome community. Probiotics are supplements or food products that contain live bacteria and yeasts that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms found in the gut. Research has shown that probiotics can help to restore the microbiome after damage from cancer treatment, they can also improve symptoms during treatment.

However, it is important to note that not all probiotics are created equal. Different strains of bacteria have different effects on the body, and it is important to work with a healthcare provider to identify the best probiotic supplement for your needs.

You can get probiotics in the foods you eat. Including probiotic yogurt, kefir, vinegar-free pickles or sauerkraut, fermented soy products like miso paste and tempeh or kombucha can give you a ‘biotic boost.

Keep fluids flowing. Fluid and fibre are bonded. While you focus on nourishing your microbiome with soft fibre notice how much you’re drinking. Try to get in a ½ - 1 cup each hour you’re awake. In addition to water, this can come from flavoured water, tea, soup, smoothies, popsicles, yogurt even jarred fruit. Staying hydrated will help the flow and regulation of your microbiome.

Sooth your gut. Microbiome changes are largely triggered by the stress of the cancer treatment. Here are some things that can help tame the stress:

  • Eat omega 3 rich foods: ground flax, omega 3 eggs, salmon, walnut butter blends, tofu, miso, soy milk

  • Take time to relax before a meal: pause and breathe into your stomach area 3-5 times or practice gratitude

  • Tone lower stomach muscles through walking, stairs, pilates and stretching, muscles in your pelvis and intestine help rhythm and elimination.

  • Limit alcohol as much as you can. Try a alcohol-free cocktail or kombucha for a gut healthy swap.

The microbiome is a complicated community we don't fully understand yet but we do know its an important part of our immune system. It can influence side effects and treatment effectiveness so it's important to consider what fuels it. Adding soluble fibre foods, introducing probiotics, staying well hydrated and reducing stress can improve gut function. If treatment side effects like constipation and diarrhea are getting in the way, you can find relief. Start with the ideas on this page and if you have more questions or need more powerful solutions, send me a message to help you trouble shoot. You deserve a good 💩.

12 best foods to support your gut

Aim for one or two a day.

Ground Flax











Vinegar-free pickles

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