From OHC

February 24, 2023

As we are going about our daily routine, we are not thinking about our immune system hard at work protecting us from harmful germs. But once we become ill, we are acutely aware that something is not functioning properly. Cancer itself and some cancer therapies can weaken the immune system making cancer patients more susceptible to illness. My colleagues and I have the following important tips for cancer patients undergoing treatment to protect them from infection and promote healing.


  • Fuel your body with a healthy plant-based diet complete with whole foods and fresh foods.
  • Nutrients that support the immune system include zinc, protein, and the Vitamins A, B6, C, and E. Healthcare providers typically recommend getting nutrients from food sources. Discuss any supplement or vitamin use with your healthcare provider. Try berries and citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, poultry, and brightly colored vegetables.
  • When preparing foods, avoid raw meats and eggs, and wash fresh fruits and vegetables before consuming them.
  • Stay hydrated. Fluids will keep your mucus membranes moist so they can act as a protective lining against germs.
  • OHC radiation oncologist and integrative medicine specialist John F. Sacco, MD, offered abundant nutrition advice in his article in OHC’s Winter/Spring 2022 news magazine.
  • Cancer treatment can affect appetite. If you do not feel like eating, try to take a couple bites of something nutrient-dense every couple of hours.


  • While you are participating in moderate-intensity exercise, you increase the circulation of your body’s immune cells and boost immunity.
  • Physical activity assists in clearing bacteria from bronchial airways.
  • Exercise increases body temperature, like a fever, and turns on the body’s immune response.
  • Exercise typically reduces stress, which is detrimental to the immune system.
  • Discuss your exercise program with your healthcare provider.

Reduce Stress

  • Coping with cancer can be stressful, but when our bodies are stressed, they release corticosteroids, hormones that lower our number of immune cells.
  • Stress can also sap our appetite and energy levels and negatively impact sleep quality, all of which are necessary for immune health.
  • To help manage stress, reach out to members of your support system or join a support group, exercise, participate in a hobby, try deep breathing, and/or enjoy nature.

Get Enough Sleep

  • The immune system and sleep are closely linked. During sleep, your body releases proteins called cytokines that support immune response.
  • Most adults need seven-to-nine hours of sleep every night, but it is important to get quality sleep. Read Dr. Sacco’s article on sleep hygiene.

The recommendations that we frequently heard during the COVID pandemic are very pertinent to those undergoing cancer therapy:

  • Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer frequently.
  • Avoid large crowds and those who are ill. Crowds in enclosed quarters are riskier than those outdoors.
  • Talk to your doctor about vaccine recommendations. You may not be able to get live virus vaccines, like the shingles vaccine, during treatment.
  • Wear a mask.

Additional advice includes avoiding cuts in the skin, avoiding sharing utensils, and bathing daily.

When functioning properly, the immune system is an extremely powerful and complex network that protects us from becoming ill. Immunocompromised individuals, like those undergoing cancer treatment, need to be keenly aware of steps to take to protect immunity. For more resources for cancer patients and their loved ones or to request a second opinion with an OHC cancer expert, call 1-888-649-4800 or visit

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