Chemo Brain: the side effect that keeps your friends and family teasing you. You can’t remember where your keys are, why you walked into a certain room, or a bunch of other big and little things. You are not alone! Some studies estimate that 70% of people who go through chemotherapy have chemo brain.
But what is Chemo Brain?
There are several reasons why doctors think chemo brain happens, and even more causes of chemo brain are being discovered. The main contributors at this time are inflammation, oxidative stress, and damage to the brain cells.
Cancer cells and cancer treatments can increase some of the cell messengers (or cytokines) in our bodies. The interesting thing here is that these cell messengers can cause inflammation in the brain. This inflammation impacts the area of the brain responsible for memory. This inflammation may also prevent new learning from taking place.
Oxidative stress is one of the things linked back to chemo brain. In non-medical terms, oxidative stress is what happens when your car gets rusty. This oxidative stress has direct effects in damaging the brain cells. In addition to direct damage, some of the chemicals created by the oxidative stress may trigger brain cells to die off.
When comparing the brains of people who have undergone chemotherapy to those who did not undergo chemotherapy, there are some parts of the brain impacted by chemotherapy. Those areas are the frontal, parietal, and occipital white matter of the brain. These regions of the brain are responsible for decision making, memory, and movement. The white matter is responsible for connecting all the different parts of the brain to each other. Studies also show changes in attention and verbal memory.
There are also reports that show chemotherapy causing damage to the fatty tissue in the brain. This is called lipid peroxidation. The lipids (or fats) in the brain are responsible for covering the nerves and creating good communication between the nerves, neurotransmitters, and the entire brain.
What Can You Do About Chemo Brain?
Hopefully, with all the medical and scientific advances in understanding chemo brain, you can feel a little more validated that this is a real thing. You are not making it up! Luckily, if you are experiencing chemo brain, there are some natural therapies that can help alleviate chemo brain.
10 Natural Chemo Brain Solutions
- Yoga – Small studies have shown that yoga practice can help reduce chemo brain. Some benefits of yoga are that it can help create new communication pathways in the brain, improve balance, and improve memory.
- Acupuncture – Acupuncture for chemo brain has not been directly studied together. Studies have shown that acupuncture can improve brain functioning and stimulate the brain directly. This gives us reason to believe that acupuncture could be helpful in reducing symptoms of chemo brain.
- Exercise – Studies have revealed that resistance exercise is particularly helpful for chemo brain. So, for chemo brain, you might want to skip the cardio and go for some light weight bearing exercise. Exercise might also help reduce the inflammation in the part of the brain that is responsible for learning new things.
- Meditation – Many studies have been conducted looking at the way meditation influences the brain. These studies have shown that meditation improves memory, attention, and the activity in the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain. This is some of the areas of brain damage during chemotherapy.
One study looked at using Tibetan Sound Meditation for improving brain function after chemotherapy. The women who did the sound meditation experienced improved verbal memory, short term memory, and processing speed compared to the women who did not do 6 weeks of Tibetan Sound Meditation twice a week.
Try this example of Tibetan Sound Meditation: Close your eyes while in a seated position or lying down comfortably. Allow the sounds to gently wash over you.
- Brain Games – Something as simple as brain games might help reduce the impact of chemo brain. I recommend bringing brain games with you to chemotherapy. You can do things like word puzzles, Sudoku, or brain game apps like Lumosity. Or take a look at these apps recommended by Daily Burn (http://dailyburn.com/life/tech/train-your-brain-apps/). Playing brain games has been shown to help both adults and children undergoing chemotherapy.
- Gotu Kola – The herb gotu kola (also known as Centella asiatica) could be helpful for chemo brain because it can protect against oxidative damage to the brain.
- Fish Oil – This omega 3 fatty acid could be beneficial in combating chemo brain. Fish oil may help reduce peroxidation, inflammation, and oxidative stress in the brain.
- Ginseng – This Chinese medicine has been used for centuries to protect brain function. In addition to protecting the brain, ginseng has been shown to improve fatigue after cancer treatments.
- Neurofeedback – A study reviewing the use of neurofeedback for chemo brain showed some exciting results. Following treatment with neurofeedback, people who had significant brain and memory decline after chemotherapy were able to have normal brain function again. They also noted improvements in energy and sleep.
- Tai Chi – This ancient form of movement therapy may be helpful for reducing chemo brain and it can improve cognitive function. It is especially good at improving decision making and processing.