More than 12,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumors (NET) each year. These tumors develop in hormone-producing endocrine and nerve cells throughout the body, including the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Unfortunately, neuroendocrine cancers and the therapies used to treat them-radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and other medications, for example-can take a serious toll on a patient’s digestive system. Many NET patients experience troublesome GI symptoms, such as loss of appetite, nutritional deficiencies because of poor absorption, nausea, vomiting, and changes in bowel habits.
Diarrhea can be an especially troubling problem for NET patients; it can occur up to 20 times per day. Patients with frequent diarrhea-soft, loose, watery stools-can find it difficult to leave the house, go to work, and live a normal life.
Diarrhea also interferes with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food and to stay hydrated.
Even after completing cancer treatment, NET patients can continue to suffer from diarrhea. In fact, among the more than 100,000 neuroendocrine cancer survivors in U.S., many experience chronic, long-term diarrhea.
Fortunately, NET patients can take steps to minimize GI symptoms that can cause discomfort and interfere with their health. Dietitians recommend the following tips:
1. Stay hydrated. It’s easy to become dehydrated when you have diarrhea. Do your best to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of liquids, such as water and broth.
2. Eat smaller meals. Larger meals can be hard on your GI system. Instead of three large meals, aim for five or six mini meals.
3. Go with the BRAT diet. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, which are foods that help bind your stools and reduce diarrhea. Generally, high-fiber foods such as whole-grain cereals and breads, as well as raw fruits and vegetables, can worsen diarrhea.
4. Avoid foods that trigger diarrhea. These can include spicy foods, greasy foods, dairy, and beverages that contain alcohol or caffeine. Wheat can bother some people, too. Pay attention to what you eat and try eliminating foods that bother you.
5. Stay away from sugar. Foods and beverages that contain sugar can make diarrhea worse. That’s because sugar (glucose) can stimulate fluid loss. Sugar alcohols (such as xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol, and maltitol) can also contribute to diarrhea, so avoid them as well.
6. Choose rehydration drinks and medical foods wisely. You may be tempted to turn to sports drinks or rehydration beverages that contain sugar-but they can make diarrhea worse, rather than better. Instead of sugary drinks, you can hydrate with enterade, which is an ideal choice for NET patients. enterade uses amino acids instead of glucose to deliver the electrolytes your body needs when you have diarrhea. enterade helps reduce dehydration, decrease diarrhea, and improve GI functioning. It also helps rebuild and protect the structures in the small intestine that absorb nutrients and fluid. Studies have shown that enterade offers better nutrient retention compared with glucose-based alternatives, resulting in whole-body hydration, improved GI function, and enhanced nutrient absorption and retention.
By following these important strategies, NET patients can improve their body’s ability to absorb water and nutrients and minimize some of their most aggravating symptoms.