Natural Remedies for Radiation Side Effects

There are a number of side effects associated with radiation therapy (also referred to as "radiotherapy" or "radiation"), a type of cancer treatment that helps kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation side effects vary from patient to patient, with some individuals suffering severe side effects and others experiencing hardly any side effects at all.

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Common Side Effects of Radiation

A form of energy released in particles or waves, radiation therapy is often administered by a machine that aims radiation at your cancer. Radiation may also be administered internally, through radioactive substances placed inside your body. Because radiation can sometimes harm normal cells in the targeted area, the treatment may produce certain side effects.

While skin changes (such as itching, peeling, and blistering) and fatigue are common among all patients receiving radiation, other side effects tend to vary depending on the bodily area being treated. These side effects may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sexual changes (such as impotence, vaginal dryness, and pain during sex)
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Urinary and bladder changes (such as incontinence and pain during urination)

Although most side effects tend to subside within two months of completing radiation therapy, certain side effects (such as infertility) may not set in until six or more months after you've finished your radiation treatment.

Natural Treatment for Radiation Side Effects

To date, the use of alternative medicine in the treatment of radiation side effects has not been extensively studied. Furthermore, since certain natural therapies may interfere with the effects of radiation treatment, it's extremely important to talk with your healthcare provider before using any type of alternative medicine while undergoing radiation (and to let him or her know about any natural remedies or alternative therapies you're already using). 

Here's a look at several types of natural treatments studied for their effects on people receiving radiation therapy:


In a pilot study published in 2009, researchers assigned 19 cancer patients to four weeks of twice-weekly acupuncture sessions and found that the needle-based Chinese therapy helped relieve radiation-induced xerostomia (severe dry mouth that occurs when the salivary glands can't produce enough saliva).

Other preliminary research suggests that acupuncture may also reduce radiation side effects like insomnia and fatigue.


Research on animals indicates that curcumin (an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in the curry spice turmeric) may help protect against radiation-induced damage to the skin. Other research in animals shows that the herb ginkgo biloba may help shield against organ damage resulting from radiation therapy. And although aloe vera is often touted as a natural remedy for radiation-induced skin changes, a 2005 research review concluded that there is not enough evidence to suggest that topical aloe vera is effective in preventing or minimizing radiation-induced skin reactions.


In a 2007 study of 490 patients receiving radiation for various types of cancer, researchers found that those taking probiotics throughout their treatment were less likely to experience radiation-induced diarrhea.

Avoiding Alternative Medicine During Radiation Therapy

Although some types of alternative medicine show promise in the treatment of radiation side effects, other therapies (such as antioxidant supplements and massage therapy) have been found to produce harmful effects when used in combination with radiation.

Treatment for Radiation Side Effects

To guard your health and protect against side effects during radiation therapy, the American Cancer Society recommends the following strategies:

  • Get plenty of rest and practice good sleep hygiene.
  • Follow a balanced diet rich in nutrients.
  • Take care of the skin in the treatment area.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes, especially over the treatment area.
  • Protect the treated area from the sun, heat, and cold.

You should also talk to your healthcare provider about how to deal with specific side effects resulting from radiation therapy. If you're considering the use of alternative medicine, talk with your healthcare provider first. Self-treating or avoiding or delaying conventional care can have serious consequences.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Cancer Institute. Radiation Therapy Side Effects.

  2. Garcia MK, Chiang JS, Cohen L, et al. Acupuncture for radiation-induced xerostomia in patients with cancer: a pilot study. Head Neck. 2009;31(10):1360-8. doi:10.1002/hed.21110

  3. Lu W. Acupuncture for side effects of chemoradiation therapy in cancer patients. Semin Oncol Nurs. 2005;21(3):190-5. doi:10.1016/j.soncn.2005.04.008

  4. Richardson J, Smith JE, Mcintyre M, Thomas R, Pilkington K. Aloe vera for preventing radiation-induced skin reactions: a systematic literature review. Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol). 2005;17(6):478-84. doi:10.1016/j.clon.2005.04.013

  5. Delia P, Sansotta G, Donato V, et al. Use of probiotics for prevention of radiation-induced diarrhea. World J Gastroenterol. 2007;13(6):912-5. doi:10.3748/wjg.v13.i6.912

Additional Reading
  • American Cancer Society. "What Can I Do to Take Care of Myself During Therapy?"

  • Delia P, Sansotta G, Donato V, Frosina P, Messina G, De Renzis C, Famularo G. "Use of probiotics for prevention of radiation-induced diarrhea." World J Gastroenterol.

  • Garcia MK, Chiang JS, Cohen L, Liu M, Palmer JL, Rosenthal DI, Wei Q, Tung S, Wang C, Rahlfs T, Chambers MS. "Acupuncture for radiation-induced xerostomia in patients with cancer: a pilot study." Head Neck.

  • Lawenda BD, Kelly KM, Ladas EJ, Sagar SM, Vickers A, Blumberg JB. "Should supplemental antioxidant administration be avoided during chemotherapy and radiation therapy?" J Natl Cancer Inst.

  • Lu W. "Acupuncture for side effects of chemoradiation therapy in cancer patients." Semin Oncol Nurs.

  • Mao JJ, Styles T, Cheville A, Wolf J, Fernandes S, Farrar JT. "Acupuncture for nonpalliative radiation therapy-related fatigue: feasibility study." J Soc Integr Oncol.

  • National Cancer Institute. "Radiation Therapy and You."

  • Okunieff P, Xu J, Hu D, Liu W, Zhang L, Morrow G, Pentland A, Ryan JL, Ding I. "Curcumin protects against radiation-induced acute and chronic cutaneous toxicity in mice and decreases mRNA expression of inflammatory and fibrogenic cytokines." Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys.

  • Richardson J, Smith JE, McIntyre M, Thomas R, Pilkington K. "Aloe vera for preventing radiation-induced skin reactions: a systematic literature review." Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol).

  • Sener G, Kabasakal L, Atasoy BM, Erzik C, Velioğlu-Oğünç A, Cetinel S, Gedik N, Yeğen BC. "Ginkgo biloba extract protects against ionizing radiation-induced oxidative organ damage in rats." Pharmacol Res.

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.