What Over-The-Counter Meds Can Help Manage Your Chemo Side Effects?

Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, but chemo drugs can kill healthy cells too. According to the American Cancer Society, patients can experience multiple side effects when healthy cells die from chemotherapy. Side effects may include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, brain fog (chemo brain), or poor mood. Some patients experience peripheral neuropathy or other nerve problems that can cause numbness, tingling, and pain.

The Pharmacy Times warns that some prescription and over-the-counter drugs may interact with chemotherapy, especially oral chemo drugs. These interactions are often specific to one or more chemo drugs, so check with your doctor before beginning any new medication, including some antacids. However, many over-the-counter meds can help manage chemo side effects safely and effectively.

The Mayo Clinic suggests aromatherapy could work to calm an upset stomach and boost mood after chemo treatments. And probiotics and other supplements could help sharpen cognitive function if you experience chemo brain (via Medscape).

WebMD says over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and NSAIDs, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can relieve mild to moderate pain. However, these medications can damage the liver or kidneys with long-term use, and taking them with alcohol can increase your chances of liver or kidney damage. It's okay to use these pain relievers in moderation — just avoid long-term or heavy use.

Natural supplements can treat chemo symptoms

According to The Cannigma, 41 states, including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have approved medical marijuana programs, and 23 of those states allow over-the-counter sales of both recreational and medical cannabis without a prescription. 

The American Cancer Society says cannabis can help treat nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and a 2011 study in The Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology verified this, with 96% of subjects reporting a significant reduction in nausea five minutes after taking cannabis.

Cannabis can also reduce neuropathic pain, another common side effect of chemo drugs. And recent studies show that THC and CBD can help slow the spread of cancer in animals and have actually killed certain types of cancer cells in laboratory studies (per American Cancer Society).  

The Mayo Clinic says aromatherapy could work to calm an upset stomach and boost mood after chemo treatments. Healthline suggests diffusing lavender, peppermint, or ginger essential oil to reduce nausea and vomiting. At the very least, it makes a pleasant addition to other therapies.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute recommends checking your B12 and vitamin D levels if you suffer from brain fog after chemo. And taking probiotics may help treat or prevent chemo brain in patients with breast cancer, according to the results of a recent human trial outlined in Medscape. Other supplements that can help fight brain fog include omega-3s, magnesium, and L-theanine, found in green tea (via Healthline).