Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Series – Article 3 – Gut Health

OPINION.  Nutritional issues are one of the biggest challenges affecting most Neuroendocrine Cancer patients.  It is also a key factor in maintaining a decent quality of life and for most countries without adequate NET Specialist Dietitian support, it remains an unmet need. In this article, I’m discussing the use of probiotics to combat the potential issue of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in Neuroendocrine Tumours.  

When I first indicated this nutrition series was under construction, a few people got quite excited anticipating me to produce advice on what to eat.  However, that was never my intention. What people should or should not eat is such a varied problem (or solution?) that anything I said would only really be of help to those for whom it worked – this area is not an exact science. I’ve seen several ‘what to or not to eat’ publications/articles out there aimed at NET patients; some more up to date than others – all I would say is to interpret them carefully.

What my nutrition series actually covers is what causes the nutritional related issues and to a certain extent, try to work out how to tell if these issues are caused by either treatment or an associated syndrome, leaving fellow patients to make up their own minds about what to eat; or arm themselves with the necessary knowledge whether this applies to them or not.

The first two articles in the series were Article 1 – Vitamin and Mineral Challenges and Article 2 – Malabsorption. These remain popular and have a constants stream of views – no surprises as these are well known side effects of many types of NETs…… or at least they should be well known.

This particular article “Gut Health” is not as ‘clear cut’ or simple as the first two and I suggest you read Articles 1 and 2 first if you are not familiar with the issues.  Again I’m grateful to Tara Whyand (NET Specialist Dietician and researcher from Royal Free London) for some of the input below. Although I marked this with ‘Opinion’, some of it has references but I still decided to use ‘Opinion’ as the science is not yet 100%.

What is the “Gut” ?

When I first met my surgeon, I found one of his favourite words was ‘Gut‘.  Like me before diagnosis, many of you will have heard or used the word but in an intentionally non-medical context, e.g.  guts (bravery), ‘gut feeling’ or ‘gut instinct’ (intuition). I’ll return to that theme later but when you look at these contextual uses of the word, it’s no surprise why some scientists refer to our gut as a ‘second brain’.

I always thought the gut referred to just the ‘belly’ area but in medical parlance, the gut has a much bigger geography.  It is sometimes used interchangeably with the term Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract and stretches from the throat to the anus and is responsible (in the most general terms) for food intake, digestion/absorption,  waste processing and finally waste ejection.  NET patients should be familiar with the terms ‘foregut’, ‘midgut’ and ‘hindgut’ which are sometimes used to define the embryological origin and grouping of Neuroendocrine primary tumours, although the boundaries and constituent parts can vary from site to site.  The inclusion of certain anatomical locations as a sub-section of the gut is clearly for convenience rather than anatomical accuracy (e.g. Lung).

This is a massive subject but I wanted to ‘cut to the chase’ in this article and focus on the use of probiotics to combat the potential issue of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in Neuroendocrine Tumours.  The symptoms and signs of SIBO can be similar to they symptoms and side effects of treatment that many patients report anecdotally on patient forums.  I also found the science is complex and not really 100% tied down.

Probiotics

One of the first pieces of advice I was given after my initial surgery was to take probiotics – to keep up my stocks of ‘good’ bacteria.  I didn’t really understand why, I just complied. I started with the liquid drinks you can buy in most supermarkets and supplemented this by eating bioactive yoghurt.  I didn’t really notice any difference from either but the yoghurt was nice to eat!

Tara Whyand then confirmed this advice when I first met her in 2012 at a NET Patient conference.  In 2013 when I started looking for a new normal, I realised that the supermarket drinks and yoghurts were simply not enough good bacteria for my ‘new plumbing’, and decided to take a high-grade daily capsule containing 5 billion friendly bacteria multiple strains (Tara does recommend at least 2 billion and multiple strain).  Within weeks I was noticing a difference in bowel motility although I confess to changing other elements of my lifestyle at the same time given that I was embarking on finding my new normal.  Nonetheless, I sense probiotics are helping and I won’t be reducing or stopping them any time soon.  If you look at several NET specific dietician/nutrition presentations, most appear to promote the use of probiotics for NET patients.

Bacteria

One of the terms you find in this complex area is the ‘human gut microbiota‘, sometimes known as ‘gut flora‘. Our ‘gut’ harbours a complex community of over 100 trillion microbial cells, approx 3% of our body mass! The human gut microbiota is known to have an influence on every part of our body (including the brain…..) and disruption of this ‘community’ has been linked with several gastrointestinal conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and obesity.

Probiotics are said to help keep the balance and mix of bacteria stable within the gut which can be affected by many different factors, including the use of antibiotics, aging, illnesses (such as IBD), following infective gastroenteritis and (of interest to NET patients) after cancer treatment or gastrointestinal surgery. {1}  Incidentally, the reference here is authored by Tara Whyand and Professor Martyn Caplin (a Neuroendocrine Tumour expert who also happens to be a Gastroenterologist). Useful reading if you have any of the conditions in the report or have had gut surgery (or like me you are a total geek!).  They are also frequently used in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

Another interesting area of research into something called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), a condition where the small intestine is populated by an abnormal amount and/or types of bad bacteria. It follows that probiotics (good bacteria) may be useful in combatting this by helping to maintain balance.

So how does SIBO potentially and specifically affect NET patients?

  • It can be caused or exacerbated by abdominal surgery to stomach, duodenum, pancreas or via whipples, small & large intestine,
  • poorly controlled diabetes,
  • the long-term use of Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI) (e.g. omeprazole and lansoprazole, etc). Several studies link to these drugs including this one,
  • possibly long term use of antibiotics which can kill good bacteria.Some evidence of surgical involvement can be found here – this link – particularly the bit about the prevalence of patients who have had an “abdominal surgery” or an “Ileocaecal valve resection”.  I guess that would include many NET patients?  (this is a big article so just focus on table 1 near the beginning).

Symptoms vary for everyone from watery diarrhoea suddenly starting 20 times a day to just bloating and wind in both directions, to nothing at all.  These symptoms are regularly reported by patients so working out the root cause might need some professional help.

Is there any testing for SIBO?

There is a test to check for SIBO is called the Hydrogen breath test. This test uses lactulose ingestion to measure the hydrogen in the breath. If SIBO is diagnosed, treatment is normally via antibiotics. However, advice is to leave a 2 hour gap between taking probiotics and antibiotics and a high dose multi-strain probiotic should be applied.  Our friend Tara has done some work on this alongside Professor Martyn Caplin which was featured at ENETS 2017.

ENETS Research – Assessment of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) in NET Patients Abstract #1698

Introduction: SIBO is not uncommon in NETs. Hydrogen Breath testing (HBT) using glucose may be more sensitive to proximal SIBO as glucose rarely reaches the colon. Many NET patients are likely to have distal SIBO however, as factors such as ileocecal valve removal apparently increase distal SIBO risk. Thus glucose BT alone may limit sensitivity for detecting SIBO in some NET diagnoses.

Aim(s): Assess likely risk factors for SIBO. Assess sensitivity of additional lactulose HBT and CH4 BT.

Materials and methods: Retrospective data (n=55) of NET patients undergoing HBT was examined. Twelve patients (12/55) who tested negative for glucose HBT but continued to have diarrhoea +/- wind had repeat BT using lactulose. These patients had both H2 & CH4 BT.

Results:
Midgut NET diagnoses were most frequently referred for BT (n=43, 78%). Twenty four (24/55, 44 %) had prior right hemicolectomy. Ten (10/24 ,42%) of those were SIBO positive. Ten patients were positive for HBT prior to being given the glucose substrate, they all had abdominal surgery in the past. Twelve patients who tested negative for glucose HBT had repeat testing using lactulose and measured both H2 and CH4 production. This led to an additional 3 (25%) positive results.

Conclusion:
Abdominal surgery, especially right hemicolectomy increases the likelihood of a positive glucose HBT. Glucose may still be sensitive in those with risk factors for distal SIBO. Additional lactulose use with H2 and CH4 measurement increases the sensitivity in diagnosing SIBO.

Conference:
14th Annual ENETS conference (2017)
Presenting Author: Tara Whyand

Keywords: nets, sibo, dysbiosis

My own Experience

I personally take a 5 billion dosage and am happy to recommend the source offline. However, in addition to obtaining from a reputable provider (i.e. in UK, MHRA approved supplier), there is evidence to suggest as long as it has some or all of the following strains that are widely available, they should provide benefit: Lactobaccilus plantarum, Lactobaccilus acidophilus, Lactobaccilus brevis, Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium longum.

This article could have been 10 x longer!  I didn’t even get to the bit about the relationship between the gut and the brain – perhaps another day?

None of this should be considered medical advice.

Article 1 – Vitamin and Mineral Challenges.   This was co-authored by Tara Whyand, UK’s most experienced NET Specialist Dietician.  This blog provides a list of vitamins and minerals which NET Cancer patients are at risk for deficiencies, together with some of the symptoms which might be displayed in a deficiency scenario.

Article 2 – Malabsorption.  Overlapping slightly into Part 1, this covers the main side effects of certain NET surgical procedures and other mainstream treatments. Input from Tara Whyand.

Article 3 – ‘Gut Health’.  This followed on from the first two blogs looking specifically at the issues caused by small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) as a consequence of cancer treatment. Also discusses probiotics.  Input from Tara Whyand.

Article 4 – Food for Thought.  This is a blog about why certain types of foods or particular foodstuffs can cause issues.

Article 5 – ‘Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy’. The role of PERT (Creon etc) in helping NET Patients. Input from Tara Whyand.

You may also appreciate these articles where there is overlap:

The Diarrhea Jigsaw – different things can cause diarrhea, it’s not all about syndromes.

The Constipated NET Patient – yes they exist!

Very grateful to Tara for the input.

Other useful links which have an association to this blog:

{a} Read a Nutrition Booklet co-authored by Tara – CLICK HERE

{b} Follow Tara on Twitter – CLICK HERE

{c} Watch a video of Tara presenting to a group of NET Patients – CLICK HERE

{d} Now Watch Tara answering the Q&A from patients – I enjoyed this – NET patients are very inquisitive! CLICK HERE

Thanks for listening

Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition Series Article 2 – Gastrointestinal Malabsorption

 

This is the second article in the Neuroendocrine Cancer Nutrition series. In  the first article, I focused on Vitamin and Mineral deficiency risks for patients and there is a big overlap with the subject of Gastrointestinal Malabsorption. Those who remember the content will have spotted the risks pertaining to the inability to absorb particular vitamins and minerals. This comes under the general heading of Malabsorption and in Neuroendocrine Cancer patients, this can be caused or exacerbated by one or more of a number of factors relating to their condition. It’s also worth pointing out that malabsorption issues can be caused by other reasons unrelated to NETs. Additionally, malabsorption and nutrient deficiency issues can form part of the presenting symptoms which eventually lead to a diagnosis of Neuroendocrine Cancer; e.g. in my own case, I was initially diagnosed with Iron Deficiency Anemia in association with some weight loss. Even after diagnosis, these issues still need to be carefully monitored as they can manifest as part of the consequences of having cancer and cancer treatment.

Malabsorption will present via several symptoms which may be similar to other issues (i.e. they could masquerade as, or appear to worsen the effect of a NET Syndrome). These symptoms may include (but are not limited to) tiredness/fatigue/lethargy, stomach cramps, diarrhea, steatorrhea (see below), weight loss. Some of these symptoms could be a direct result of nutrient deficiencies caused by the malabsorption.  Some patients (and perhaps physicians?) could mistake these for symptoms of Neuroendocrine disease including certain syndromes, perhaps leading to prescribing expensive and unnecessary drugs when a different (and cheaper) strategy might be better.

Crash Course……. We eat food, but our digestive system doesn’t absorb food, it absorbs nutrients.  Food has to be broken down from things like steak and broccoli into its nutrient pieces: amino acids (from proteins), fatty acids and cholesterol (from fats), and simple sugars (from carbohydrates), as well as vitamins, minerals, and a variety of other plant and animal compounds. Digestive enzymes, primarily produced in the pancreas and small intestine (they’re also made in saliva glands and the stomach), break down our food into nutrients so that our bodies can absorb them.  If we don’t have enough digestive enzymes, we can’t break down our food—which means even though we’re eating well, we aren’t absorbing all that good nutrition.

What is malabsorption?

The malabsorption associated with Neuroendocrine Cancer is most prevalent with the inability to digest fat properly which can lead to steatorrhea. Patients will recognise this in their stools. They may be floating, foul-smelling and greasy (oily) and frothy looking. Many patients confuse steatorrhea with diarrhea but technically it’s a different issue although both issues may present concurrently. Whilst we all need some fat in our diets (e.g. for energy), if a patient is not absorbing fat, it ends up being wasted in their stools and in addition to the steatorrhea, it can also potentially lead to (unwanted) weight loss and micronutrient deficiencies of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Certain water-soluble vitamins, particularly B3 and B12, are also at risk. Many NET Patients are prescribed a supplement of pancreatic enzymes to combat these issues – see Article 5 in this series – Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT).

What causes it with NET Patients?

Structural Changes (i.e. Surgery) 

This can play a very big part in malabsorption issues. For example, if a patient has undergone Pancreatic surgery, this will most likely effect the availability of pancreatic (digestive) enzymes needed to break down food. Many Small Intestine NET (SI NET) patients will suffer due to the removal of sections of their ileum, an area where absorption of water-soluble vitamins and other nutrients take place. In fact, the terminal ileum is really the only place where B12 is efficiently absorbed.  Low B12 is known to cause fatigue.  Some patients with Gastric tumours succumb to pernicious anemia with the most common cause being the loss of stomach cells that make intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor helps the body absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine. Although a less common tumour location, jejunum surgery could result in loss of nutrients as this section of the small intestine is active in digestive processes. Malabsorption issues for SI NETs are an added complication to the issues caused by a shorter bowel (e.g. faster transit time), something which is regularly assumed to be the effects of one of the NET Syndromes (particularly diarrhea and fatigue), when in actual fact, it’s a simple consequence of cancer treatment and may need a different treatment regime.

Evidence of the problems being caused by the effects of small intestinal surgery can be found in a recently published Swedish study which you can read here: Click here. This particular study recommends supplementation of B12 and D3 for those affected.  If you’re having trouble getting your physician to monitor your vitamin levels, show them these studies. I get these vitamins checked annually.

The Gallbladder and Liver

The Gallbladder plays an important part in the digestive system – particularly in fat breakdown. The liver continually manufactures bile, which travels to the gallbladder where it is stored and concentrated. Bile helps to digest fat and the gallbladder automatically secretes a lot of bile into the small intestine after a fatty meal. However, when the gallbladder is removed, the storage of bile is no longer possible and to a certain extent, neither is the ‘on demand automation’. This results in the bile being constantly delivered/trickled into the small intestine making the digestion of fat less efficient. One of the key side effects of Somatostatin Analogues  (Octreotide and Lanreotide) is the formation of gall stones and many Neuroendocrine Cancer patients have their gallbladder removed to offset the risk of succumbing to these issues downstream. However, the removal of the gallbladder increases the risk of Bile Acid Malabsorption (BAM) as described below. Any issues with Bile Ducts can also have a similar effect.

The Liver has multiple functions including the production of bile as stated above. However, one of its key functions within the digestive system is to process the nutrients absorbed from the small intestine.  If this process is affected by disease, it can potentially worsen the issues outlined above.

Bile Acids Malabsorption

Another risk created by the lack of terminal ileum is Bile Acids Malabsorption (BAM) (sometimes known as Bile Salts Malabsorption and some texts described the resultant diarrhea as ‘Bile Acid Diarrhea”). Bile Acids are produced in the liver and have major roles in the absorption of lipids in the small intestine. Following a terminal ileum resection which includes a right hemicolectomy, there is a risk that excess Bile Acids will leak into the large intestine (colon) via the anastomosis (the new joint between small and large intestines).  This leakage can lead to increased motility, shortening the colonic transit time, and so producing watery diarrhea (or exacerbating an existing condition).

Somatostatin Analogues

Somatostatin Analogues can also impact (or worsen) the ability to digest fat as they inhibit the production of pancreatic digestive enzymes (amongst other things). This is a well-known side effect of both Octreotide and Lanreotide. The levels of the fat-soluble vitamins (ADEK) and B vitamins such as B12, need to be monitored through testing and/or in reaction to symptoms of malabsorption.  If necessary these issues need to be offset with the use of supplements as directed by your dietician or doctor. Supplements are less affected by malabsorption of nutrients but their efficiency can be impacted by fast gut transit times (thus why testing is important).  The evidence and recommendations for malabsorption caused by somatostatin analogues is here: Click Here.  

Overlapping Areas

Deficiencies of these vitamins and certain minerals can lead to other conditions/comorbidities, some more serious than others. For a list of the vitamins and minerals most at risk for Neuroendocrine Cancer patients, have a read of my article which was co-authored by Tara Whyand – Vitamin and Mineral deficiency risks.

There is a third article in this series discussing a related issue with Neuroendocrine Cancer, particularly where gut surgery has been performed. You can link directly to this article here  – “Gut Health” – (Gut Health, Probiotics and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)).

The fourth article  looks at Amines and why they can cause food reactions or exacerbate syndromes.

Many people also confuse steatorrhea with diarrhea (although these issues can appear simultaneously), again leading to wrong conclusions about the causes and effects, and worryingly, the treatment required. Check out my diarrhea article – click here.

Article 5 in this series looks at how to combat malabsorption caused by pancreatic insufficiency – Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT).

My article ‘The Diarrhea Jigsaw’ is complementary to this nutrition series.

Summary

A common problem in patients and from what I see, many just assume this is part of their various syndromes leading to the wrong therapy or no therapy as it’s simply ignored. Again, I remain very grateful to Tara Whyand for some assistance.

This is a big and complex subject and I only intended to cover the basics.  Everyone is different and nothing in here should be accepted as medical advice for you or anyone you know.  If you need professional advice, you should speak to your doctor or registered dietitian.

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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