8 Tips for Managing Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea


By Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN
Clinical Nutritionist, The Pancreas Center

One of the biggest pitfalls of undergoing chemotherapy can be dealing with nausea. Not everybody will experience this uncomfortable side effect, and often times, symptoms may be only mild Even mild nausea however, can have a significant impact on how much food one is able to eat, contributing to weight loss. Knowing how to manage nausea is important to staying healthy during your treatment. The following are suggestions to minimize your discomfort:

  1. Avoid your favorite food. Do not eat your favorite food if you are feeling nauseated. This may create a negative association with that food and the next time you try to eat it, your favorite food may cause you to feel queasy. Rather, have foods that are easy to digest such as crackers, toast, yogurt, potato, broth, or rice.
  2. Talk to your doctor about nausea medications. Common medications for nausea include ondansetron (Zofran) and prochlorperazine maleate (Compazine). It is best to take these medications about an hour before eating. This will help you maximize how much you can eat and allow you to enjoy your meal more.
  3. Avoid strong smells. Half of our taste sensors come from our nose, so avoid the kitchen while your family or friends are cooking (this would be a good time for a nap in your bedroom). Open a window to help neutralize any smells.
  4. Avoid warm foods. Cold foods like yogurt and ice cream are often well tolerated. Try letting your warm food cool down for 30 minutes before eating (this will also allow more time to pass when airing out the kitchen). If you cannot wait, place your warm dish in a large bowl of ice to it cool down quickly.
  5. Eat every 2-3 hours. Sometimes an empty stomach causes a queasy stomach. Try to not let your stomach get completely empty by snacking on pretzels, crackers, toast, yogurt, cheese, or a milkshake.
  6. Eat what you want to eat. If you feel like having macaroni and cheese, and that appeals to you, then by all means, eat some macaroni and cheese. Breakfast food for dinner? Go for it! Don’t try to force yourself to eat a meal that causes your stomach to turn at the thought of it. Some patients are turned off by salty foods, some by sweet foods. Some patients find that everything tastes very bland and enjoy extra herbs or spices. Adjust how your food is prepared so that is appeals to you. This is not a one size fits all approach to eating.
  7. Drink liquids in-between meals/snacks. Filling your stomach up with liquids during mealtime there will be less room for food! You will feel full faster if you drink too much with your meals. Staying hydrated is important, so sip on liquids in between your meals. Small sips during meal times should be well tolerated.
  8. Use ginger and peppermint. Ginger and peppermint are age old remedies used for treating nausea. Make a cup of ginger or peppermint tea, or purchase ginger or peppermint candies. Put a drop of peppermint essential oil on a tissue and bring it with you to inhale. If you know you like the scent of peppermint, you could put a drop underneath the collar of your shirt or pin a handkerchief with a drop underneath your shirt. Caution: make sure you find the smell of something pleasant before putting it on your clothing.