Added: Thu. Jan 17, 2013 9:46am
partner has cancer and is receiving chemotherapy. She’s responding
well but now has trouble with simple math, decision making, and she
doesn’t finish her sentences. Can chemo do that? --B.G., San Diego,
Scientists are still trying understand the phenomenon your partner
describes, which they named “chemo brain.” It happens to affect
seniors, and those with chronic infections and illnesses.
with modern technology, such as MRIs, the exact cause of chemo brain
has evaded scientists. You see, even with an MRI scan, only minor
differences in the brain are seen before and after chemotherapy, and
nothing definitively points to the cause of “chemo brain” making
it hard to treat.
pop quiz time: Do you know that your brain needs glucose in order to
work, grow, and think? It’s true! Your noggin uses more than 20
percent of the fuel derived from the food you eat. Fuel is equal to
glucose in this case. Knowing this tidbit, scientists recently made a
discovery that will help chemo brain sufferers.
at the Virginia University School of Medicine tried a different
approach. Instead of looking at still shots of the brain with an MRI
(before and after chemo), they watched how the brain uses glucose
derived from the meals their patients ate. They used a specialized
scanning device (PET scan), along with CT scans and discovered that
certain parts of your brain light up brightly when glucose is
utilized. These brighter areas show the regions of the brain that are
actively ‘eating’ glucose. It’s a good thing, it’s you want
because it means that your brain is working properly. Glucose feeds
the brains of chemotherapy-treated patients still lit up, but they
were much duller in brightness, indicating less activity. Incredibly,
the duller areas are the regions of the brain responsible for
planning and decision-making, and that’s exactly what “chemo
brain” sufferers complain about. The researchers are not exactly
sure why this happens, it could be related to excessive cytokine
production or nerve unraveling (demyelination) but nevertheless, it
validates so many of you who have asked me to help you with memory
loss, poor concentration, inability to solve problems, and general
cognitive decline after receiving chemotherapy.
what can you do to help your partner with chemo brain? First, point
out to her that it may get better after completion of the chemo.
Next, increase colorful fruits and vegetables in the diet, keeping it
free of anything refined or processed.
30 minutes a day can improve chemo brain by shuttling more glucose to
the brain. There are supplements at health food stores, or online
that nourish the brain, providing more glucose and improved blood
flow. Ask your oncologist if some of the following would be
beneficial for you: vinpocetine, ginkgo biloba, bacopa,
phosphatidylserine, coconut oil and DHA. In fact, any of you with
memory loss should ask your doctor about these supplements.