Taraji P. Henson Reveals the Stomach Cancer Scare That Changed Her Life, ‘This Can Sink Me’

A gut diagnosis and an altered diet helped the Empire star turn her health around.

  • Taraji P. Henson revealed she suffered from bouts of mysterious uncontrollable vomiting for years before receiving a proper diagnosis.
  • Her doctor said in 2017, “If you don’t correct what’s going on inside of you, you’re going to develop stomach ulcers, which can lead to stomach cancer,” the actress told Women’s Health.
  • The 51-year-old was diagnosed with a painful gut condition soon after, and she credits a plant-based diet with helping her recover.

    Although Taraji P. Henson isn’t actually Cookie Lyon, she’s just as strong as her small-screen counterpart. In a new profile in Women’s Health, the Empire actress revealed that a chronic stomach issue tested her limits by landing her in the hospital and leading to a cancer scare. But the experience ultimately led to her putting her health first and inspired her to completely switch up her diet.

    Henson, 51, says that she’s dealt with stomach issues—most alarmingly, short periods when she’d vomit uncontrollably—for as long as she can remember. She was rushed to the hospital after a particularly bad episode in 2015 while in Monte Carlo, then again in 2017, when she was shooting The Best of Enemies on location in Georgia.

    According to the Women's Health interview, Henson became so sick and dehydrated that she had to lie down on the floor of her hotel room. To avoid attracting the attention of those around her, Taraji’s assistant and security person whisked her off the premises on a luggage rack covered with a blanket and into a waiting car. It was at the hospital in Georgia that a doctor’s dire warning changed her life.

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    “He said, ‘If you don’t correct what’s going on inside of you, you’re going to develop stomach ulcers, which can lead to stomach cancer,’” the Hidden Figures star recalled. After each vomiting episode, Henson was prescribed proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), medications that treat acid reflux—and while they worked, she notes that the medication didn’t address her underlying stomach issue.

    Soon after, at the suggestion of her assistant, Henson connected with a holistic doctor who diagnosed her with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition that occurs when food and waste are slowed in the digestive tract, per Mayo Clinic. This creates a breeding ground for bacteria not normally found in the gut leading to pain, loss of appetite, nausea, malnutrition, and diarrhea. She was again prescribed a PPI, but this time, she also sought dietary changes. To counteract the condition, Henson’s practitioner suggested a plant-based diet featuring gut-friendly foods like papaya and fermented veggies.

    “Western medicine saves lives,” Henson told Women’s Health. “But it wasn’t helping in my situation.” She says her health immediately improved on the new diet, and she ate almost entirely vegan—save for the occasional bite of her grandmother’s cooking—for over a year.

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    “I was very bad to my stomach for a very long time, and I didn’t know,” Henson told The Cut in 2017, just a few months after her diagnosis. In a Delish interview from the same year, she cited taking ibuprofen and drinking coffee on an empty stomach as her worst offenses.

    “I switched everything up out of necessity. I want to live,” Henson told InStyle in 2018. “Thank God, because I feel so much better.”

    The COVID-19 pandemic tested her—she lapsed in her plant-based diet and even woke up one morning with a Cheeto stuck to her face. “I was like, ‘This can sink me,’” the actress continued in Women’s Health. “That’s when I realized I had to do everything I could to feel good, or that depression thing was going to get the best of me.” Now, she’s a fan of hour-plus-long workouts—she even credits her dairy-free diet with allowing her to sing well enough to record a new EP.

    “You need to educate yourself about the foods that you’re eating so you know what you’re putting in your body,” Henson told The Cut. “You’ll look up one day and realize you’ve been damaging yourself. Be proactive in your health. Don’t wait until you have a scare to be a healthier version of yourself.”

    Jake Smith, an editorial fellow at Prevention, recently graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in magazine journalism and just started going to the gym.

    This story originally appeared on: Prevention.com - Author:Jake Smith