Chemotherapy Side Effects: Relief From Nerve Pain

by Dr. Nalini Chilkov

Eight Tips For Healing Damaged Nerves


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Nerve damage and nerve pain (neuropathy)  are common side effects of chemotherapy cancer treatment. Neuropathy is caused when chemotherapy drugs damage healthy nerves causing symptoms such as nerve pain, tingling, burning and numbness. Peripheral neuropathy, nerve pain in the fingers, hands, toes and feet, is the one of the most common long term side effects of chemotherapy treatment. While in some patients, neuropathy will resolve over time, in some patients, nerve pain can persist for years and lead to poor quality of life due to chronic pain and the need to limit many activities.

Most oncologists do not have any solutions for their patients when it somes to nerve repair.  However nature has provided us with a perfect tool box of solutions including nutrients and herbs to support the healing and repair of nerves for long term relief. Because there is no health model in conventional cancer care, patients must often look for the tools for rebuilding health and normal function from other qualified health professionals who specialize in restoring health.

Chemotherapy drugs produce an enormous amount of oxidative stress. This means that tissues are damaged by oxidation in the same way that rust damages metal. Our cells can be damaged by  the high oxidation in our tissues produced by both chemotherapy and radiation therapy.   Nerves are particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress and therefore are commonly damaged by chemotherapy drugs. In some patients, the body can “quench” the fire of oxidation.  But due to individual genetics, some patients are unable to do so and the fire just keeps kindling itself and never dies down. These are the patients who suffer  the most with long term nerve pain after chemotherapy.

We have our own super anti-oxidants inside our cells. The most important natural anti-oxidant is glutathione. Increasing glutathione in the cells will not only protect nerves from damage but can also stop the ongoing cycle of oxidative stress. Once the oxidation is quenched, the nerves have the opportunity to repair in the presence of proper nutrients for the restoration of normal nerve health and function.

Overall, we need to use properly selected anti-oxidants and supply the building blocks of healthy nerve tissue to support and promote normal and healthy nerve function and repair the damage from chemotherapy toxicity and side effects.

Here are 8  tips for managing pain and supporting the healing and repair of nerves damaged by chemotherapy

  • Whey Protein is isolated from cow’s milk. It is one of the best concentrated sources of easy to digest protein.
  • I recommend a whey protein shake at least once or twice daily during cancer treatment and at least once daily after treatment is completed. (If you are sensitive to or allergic to cow’s milk, whey may not be a good choice for you.)   Not only does Whey Protein increase glutathioine protects cells from ongoing and further damage. Patients who have higher levels of cellular glutathione have lower risk of diseases related to oxidative stress, including many cancers.  I recommend high quality (undenatured, low heat processed) Whey Protein to cancer patients and those recovering from chemotherapy, surgery and radiation as a source of high quality protein on a daily basis.
  • N-Acetylcysteine is one of the building blocks of glutathione. Giving the body a steady source of N-Acetylcysteine allows for greater production of this cell protecting antioxidant.
  • R-Lipoic Acid Research shows that the biologically active form of Lipoic Acid (the “R” form) can act both in the cell membrane which is made of fat and inside the watery portion of the cell. As nerve cells are protected by myelin, a substance made mostly of fat, R Lipoic acid is particularly protective to nerve cells. R-Lipoic Acid can support repair of nerve cells in the body and nerve cells in the brain. When you buy “Alpha” Lipoic Acid only half of that substance is “R” Lipoic acid, so whenever possible use the active “R” form.
  • L-Carnitine Nerves that have been damaged by chemotherapy drugs have been poisoned by toxic exposure. This damages the mitochondria, the engine of energy production inside the cell. When this happens, the cell is unable to produce sufficient energy for repair and normal function. All cells that require high amounts of energy will suffer from the toxic chemotherapy side effects. Nerve cells in the body and the brain as well as heart muscle are the most energy demanding cells and thus will suffer chemotherapy toxic side effects. Carnitine, an amino acid,  is primarily found in red meat. I generally recommend limiting red meat in the diet for cancer patients and cardiovascular patients. When eating red meat, always choose organic grass fed whenever possible.   If you eat grass fed beef or lamb, you can include red meat twice per week.  It is easy to take L Carnitine in capsule, powder or liquid form. It can be added to your Whey Protein shake!   L-Carnitine is also very useful after surgery to promote normal healing of incisions, especially where support of muscle repair is needed.
  • Tocotrienols are in the Vitamin E family. Tocotrienols are especially valuable in supporting nerve repair. I recommend 100mg three times daily. The most active form is “Delta” tocotrienols.
  • Omega 3 Oils (EPA-DHA) These “healthy fats” are the building blocks of every cell wall in the body. These Omega 3 oils are the building blocks of the brain and of the fatty protective myelin covering of nerves. These oils have been shown to have some anti-cancer properties and to support normal inflammation function in the body. For all of these reasons, these oils are a crucial part of the daily diet. The modern diet is typically very low in these oils. Omega 3 oils can be found in cold water fish such as salmon, cod, mackerel and sardines and in walnuts and almonds in small amounts. It is hard to ingest a dose that will restore nerve repair from food alone. Therefore I recommend a high quality Omega 3 supplement 500-1000mg 2-3 times daily. Cheap brands of Omega 3 oils often contain contaminants and therefore should be avoided.
  • Deeply Pigmented Fruits and Vegetables Rich in Anti-Oxidants The deep rich colors present in plant foods signals the presence of anti-oxidants. Some examples of  anti-oxidant rich foods include blueberries, raspberries, kale, broccoli, spinach, carrots, yams, pomegranates, tomatoes, and tumeric to name a few.  By including 8-12 servings of a rainbow of richly colored fruits and vegetables in your diet daily you will be increasing anti-oxidant protection for your cells.  Diabetic patients should limit fruits and focus on vegetables.  All cancer patients should limit concentrated sweets and sugars in the diet as cancer cells preferentially use sugars for growth.
  • Acupuncture: During chemotherapy treatment it is important to use therapies that do not interfere with the chemotherapy drugs. Acupuncture can be used both during and after treatment to manage chemotherapy side effects. Acupuncture not only blocks pain but also promotes healing and repair.

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As with all changes in diet and lifestyle and the use of nutritional and botanical supplements, always consult your health care provider.

These statements have not been approved by the FDA and do not imply the treatment or cure of any condition or disease.

Bonus Recipe: High Protein/High Antioxidant/Low Glycemic Heath Shake

1 Heaping Tablespoon High quality Whey Protein Powder

1 Heaping Tablespoon fiber powder

Organic berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries)

Liquid of your choice: coconut water, coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, kefir, organic cow or goat milk, water)


Organic greens or reds powder …concentrated from fruits and vegetables

Carnitine Powder or Liquid

Omega 3 Oils

ginger powder, cinnamon powder, fresh mint

raw organic high omega 3 egg

Coconut powder

Almond Butter

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  1. idiva says:

    Are there any options besides whey protein and high omega eggs that you suggest for vegans?

  2. Dr. Nalini says:

    Vegans can omit the whey and use the NAC for glutathione support. And select a high quality source of protein.  It is difficult to get an adequate dose of Omega 3 fatty acids from plants which always comes with omega 6. We want the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 to be higher. Krill oil is a source of Omega 3 but it is not vegan…it is a little animal.   I am not a proponent of vegan diets due to deficiencies of Omega 3 fatty acids, Carnitine, and B12 which are essential nutrients, particularly for cancer patients and for repair and recovery as well as energy production, etc.  That is a long discussion.  I know many people feel a vegan diet is best for cancer prevention, but I feel any extreme diet will not be suited to everyone at every stage of life. I prefer to individualize rather than stick to an idealogy that may not be the best choice for each individual.  There are many paths of healing, many ways to solve problems in health, many worthy diets….not just one diet or one approach.  If you are recovering from surgery, chemo, etc….then it will take longer to heal on a vegan diet due to the challenges of getting essential nutrients, unless you take them as supplements.

  3. emily says:

    With all due respect, why the gimmick involved in revealing the “Three Cancer Myths”? I’m a stage II survivior (still in treatment with Herceptin and Tamoxifen) and feel I have had to endure enough b.s. from the cancer industry.  Why make it an extra step to find out about these “myths”?

  4. Dr. Nalini Chilkov says:

    I am sorry you find that being offered a free 30 page report filled with information and resources is a gimmick. It is common practice when gathering a list of interested persons who might like to stay in touch, to offer something of value in exchange for your email.
    You are most welcome to unsubscribe from my list at any time if the information is not of value to you. If you are already a well informed patient, then the more basic information may not be a fit for you. But for those who are just exploring, I hope it will lead them in the direction of taking control of their health, making changes in diet and environment, becoming well informed. You inspire me to write about how to manage the side effects of Tamoxifen and Herceptin naturally. As you have a more aggressive cancer, I am happy to be of service to you. What would you find of most value? I am happy to write about what interests you and matters to you most. I have been caring for and guiding patients like yourself for 30 years. Let me know if I can be a resource to you.

  5. Marjoriesands says:

    Thank you so much for this nerve pain solution.  I had surgery in 2010 and radiation in 2011.
    Did not have chemo (my choice, not theirs).  I have had a “hot flash” type of nerve pain ever since finishing radiation.  Oncologist finally told me a nerve was probably severed during the one lymph node removal.  I also have ongoing pain in breast that nobody seems to know what that’s about.  I will try your shake.  What about resveratrol.  I seem to remember you mentioning that in one of your blogs (along with other supplements to take, but can’t find it now.)  I think you’re information is amazing and I hope to be able to come and see you for a consult in September.

  6. Dear Marjorie..So many cancer patients suffer nerve pain and oncologists have little if nothing to offer for either short term or long term relief.  Given the right conditions and resources many normal healthy functions can be restored.  This takes time as natural healing proceeds in the rhythm of nature, so do be patient with the process. Resveratrol has many many benefits related to cancer survival, recovery and prevention, though  not directly related to nerve repair. If you search this site using the word “resveratrol” in the search field you will find several blogs discussing resveratrol’s benefits.  Do let me know what else you would like to read about!!!

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