Supplements may help battle memory problems of 'chemo brain'
BY SUZY COHEN Dear Pharmacist
Saturday, January 12, 2013
1/31/13 at 3:10 PM
Dear Pharmacist, My 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."
Even with modern technology, the exact cause of "chemo brain" has evaded scientists. Even with an MRI scan, only minor differences in the brain are seen before and after chemotherapy.
Alright, pop quiz time: Do you know that your brain needs glucose in order to work, grow, and think? It's true! Knowing this tidbit, scientists recently made a discovery that will help "chemo brain" sufferers.
Researchers at the Virginia University School of Medicine watched how the brain uses glucose derived from the meals their patients ate. They used a PET scan, along with CT scans, and discovered that parts of the brain light up brightly when glucose is utilized. These brighter areas show the regions of the brain that are actively "eating" glucose.
Interestingly, 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 what "chemo brain" sufferers complain about. It could be related to excessive cytokine production or nerve unraveling (demyelination).
So what can you do to help your partner? 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.
Exercising 30 minutes a day can improve "chemo brain" by shuttling more glucose to the brain. There are supplements that nourish the brain, providing more glucose and improved blood flow. Ask your oncologist if some of the following would be beneficial: vinpocetine, ginkgo biloba, bacopa, phosphatidylserine, coconut oil and DHA.