In the article, the Best Nutrition During Chemotherapy, I went into detail about how chemotherapy affects both cancer cells and healthy cells, and how nutrition can help protect the healthy cells. Having worked with many cancer patients in our nutrition practice Swanson Health Center and genetic nutrition testing through Nutrition Genome, electrolyte drinks before, during and after chemotherapy are critical.

Why Do Cancer Patients Need Electrolytes During Chemotherapy?

Platinum chemotherapy (Cisplatin), is commonly associated with electrolyte imbalances, including low magnesium (up to 90% using Cisplatin), low potassium, low phosphate, low calcium, and low sodium (up to 43%). This is the type of chemo typically used for lung, colon, ovarian, breast, head/neck, bladder and testicular cancers. Vomiting and diarrhea compound these electrolyte imbalances.

Chemotherapy patients often experience the following:

  • Nausea
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of stamina
  • Poor wound healing
  • Metallic taste in mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Poor appetite
  • Low platelets
  • Low hemoglobin
  • Brain fog
  • Neuropathy
  • Memory loss

The early signs of magnesium deficiency including loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps (especially the calf muscle), and arrhythmias. If a patient has acid reflux and they are given proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s), magnesium deficiency becomes much worse, along with deficiencies in calcium and other nutrients like B12.

How to Choose an Electrolyte Formula for Chemotherapy

1. Avoid any electrolyte drinks the use sucrose, fructose, crystalline fructose, sucralose, high fructose corn syrup or acesulfame K. Stevia or Lo Han Guo are acceptable. In the NIH-AARP Diet and Health study of 435,674 subjects looking at the amount of sucrose, fructose, added sugars, added sucrose and added fructose in the diet over 7.2 years found that added sugars were positively associated with risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma, added fructose was associated with risk of small intestine cancer, and all investigated sugars were associated with increased risk of pleural cancer (cavities between the lung and chest). In women, total sugars, added sugars and added fructose intakes were positively associated with risk of leukemia, and high fructose intake was associated with increased risk of bladder cancer.

2. Choose bicarbonate forms of sodium and potassium or ionic minerals from the sea. The formula should have sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. A bonus will be the addition of niacin and lithium.

3. The formula should use magnesium malate, citrate or ionic. Avoid electrolyte drinks that do not contain magnesium, or use poorly absorbed forms like magnesium oxide.

4. Avoid any electrolyte drinks that use artificial colors, food dyes or MSG disguised as natural flavors. The food dyes have been found to inhibit mitochondrial respiration, which affects your cells ability to convert food to energy. The dye Red 3 has been shown to cause causes cancer in animals, and other food dyes have also been shown to exhibit carcinogenic activity. Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) have been found to be contaminated with carcinogens like benzidine, while multiple studies have found Yellow 5 positive for genotoxicity. Depending on the flavor, Gatorade uses Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40 and Blue 1.

5. Keep the electrolyte drink on ice. Due to the change in taste buds, you may want one that has very little taste.

The Best Electrolyte Drinks for Chemotherapy 

1. Optimal Electrolyte Formula by Seeking Health

The Optimal Electrolyte Formula by Seeking Health contains the bicarbonate forms of sodium (140mg) and potassium (580mg), 150mg of magnesium malate, 75mg of niacin, 2g of D-ribose, 225mg of creatine and 250mg of taurine.

In cancer patients, niacin deficiency is common. Niacin deficiency is also highly correlated with cancer cell growth in the breasts, lungs, and skin. Niacin and NAD+ levels are important determinants of protecting healthy cells against chemical assaults, and niacin deficiency delays all of the processes involved in DNA protection and repair DNA protection and repair. Chemotherapy causes damage to cells that can cause acute bone marrow suppression and the long-term development of leukemias. Improvement of niacin status in rats significantly decreased leukemia incidence and suggests that niacin supplementation of cancer patients may decrease the severity of short and long-term side effects of chemotherapy, and could improve tumor cell death.

In a double-blind randomized controlled trial, creatine improved body cell mass (BCM) and cell integrity in patients going through mild chemotherapy. Creatine, however, has failed in multiple trials to help cancer-induced weight loss.

One study found that taurine supplementation could be a protection against chemotherapy-induced toxicities, significantly increased white blood cell count, increased in the taurine-treated group, improved liver and kidney functions, significantly reduced serum malondialdehyde (MDA), and decreased chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

The flavor of this one may be too sweet for some chemo patients.

2. DayLyte

DayLyte contains 65mg of magnesium, 50mg of sodium, 150mg of potassium, 390mg of chloride, 10mg of calcium, 3mg of zinc, 100mg of lysine, 400mcg of boron, and 18mg of sulfate.

DayLyte is a great choice if the taste of the Optimal Electrolyte is too strong for you because there is little to no flavor. These are simply ionic minerals from Lake Utah in a liquid form that you add to water. I recommend combining DayLyte over other liquid sea minerals due to the higher magnesium content, the 3:1 ratio of potassium to sodium, and 1mg of lithium.

Trace amounts of lithium can have powerful effects on the body, including the remyelination of peripheral nerves. Lithium has been found to inhibit colon cancer metastasis and prevent metastasis to the lungs, liver, and lymph nodes.

3. Gerolsteiner Mineral Water

Gerolsteiner is a natural mineral water from Germany near the Dolomites. One liter has 345mg of calcium, 100mg of magnesium, 1800mg of bicarbonate, 115mg of sodium, 40mg of chloride, 10mg of potassium, 35mg of sulfate, and 55 mg of trace minerals. Gerlosteiner is carbonated, but you could let it go flat if that bothers you. Choose the glass version only, not the plastic version.

This mineral water has a very unique profile. Not only is it high in calcium and magnesium, but it is an excellent source of bicarbonate. Why is this so important? Bicarbonate increases tumor pH and inhibits spontaneous metastases. This study was able to show that oral sodium bicarbonate selectively increased the pH of tumors and reduced the formation of spontaneous metastases in mouse models of metastatic breast cancer.

The Worst Electrolyte Drinks for Chemotherapy

1. Gatorade

Gatorade contains 34 grams of sugar and dextrose per 20 oz. serving, sodium, and potassium but omits all the other electrolytes, citric acid, gum arabic, glycerol ester of rosin, natural flavor, and uses the food dyes Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40 and Blue 1 depending on the flavor.

Gatorade is still shockingly recommended for cancer patients going through chemotherapy. First, it contains 34 grams of sugar and dextrose per 20 oz. serving. Sugar depletes minerals, can lower immunity, spur cancer growth and has been found to increase strains of bad bacteria like C-Diff and chlostridium perfringens (food poisoning strain).

Chemotherapy severely affects the microbiome, causing a dramatic shift in good and bad bacteria. Up to 80% of your immune system is in your digestive tract, making chemotherapy extremely immunosuppressive. Research has shown that there is a massive increase in the genus Proteobacteria, known for the pathogenic bacteria salmonella, E. coli, and Helicobacter (H. pylori).

In vitro studies have found that citric acid, phosphoric acid (found in sodas) benzoic acid, and calcium propionate all cause DNA damage in human lymphocytes, that can lead to cancerous growth.

2. Pedialyte

Pedialyte contains dextrose, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, sodium, potassium, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, zinc gluconate and depending on the flavor, Yellow 6, Blue 1 or Red 40.

Sucralose is a synthetic organochlorine that has been found in studies to reduce the total number of bifidobacteria, lactobacilli and other good bacteria. A mice study found that acesulfame potassium disturbed the gut microbiome after a 4-week treatment, with an increase in weight gain in the male mice. Your gut bacteria are able to produce a full spectrum of B-vitamins, needed for healthy DNA. Disturbing your gut flora decreases this ability.

3. Powerade and Powerade Zero

Powerade uses 34 grams of high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient after water, citric acid, sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium phosphate, natural flavors (can be MSG), Modified Food Starch, Calcium Disodium EDTA (to protect color), Medium Chain Triglycerides, Sucrose Acetate Isobutyrate, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and Blue 1. There is also a note on the Powerade website that they use GMO crops, which is often contaminated with glyphosate.

Powerade Zero uses water, citric acid, salt and mono-potassium phosphate, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, natural flavors (can be MSG), sucralose, acesulfame potassium, B3, B6, B12 (cyanocobalamin), Blue 1 or Red 40 or Yellow #5 or Yellow #6 depending on the flavor, ascorbic acid, calcium disodium EDTA (to protect color).

A study that looked at 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products found that almost half of the tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) products contained mercury. Mercury is ranked third by the US Government Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the most toxic elements on the planet next to arsenic and lead.

Recent studies have suggested that high blood sugar and inflammation, as seen in diabetics, may lead to increased tumor growth. Mercury exposure is a risk factor for diabetes, with research showing it causes decreased insulin secretion and increased blood glucose levels. This combination of spiked blood sugar from high fructose corn syrup and mercury disrupting insulin and blood glucose levels is a toxic combination for cancer patients. Mercury is widely toxic in the body.

Further Reading
The Best Nutrition for Chemotherapy


*Alex is no longer able to answer comments due to very limited time outside of Nutrition Genome. If you are interested in nutrigenomic testing, please check out