Do I have Chemo Brain? How can I treat it?
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The first time a patient hears about chemotherapy, one of the many thoughts that may occur is the side effect of losing one’s hair. Hair loss is certainly an inconvenience of chemotherapy, but another side effect impacts the head much more profoundly, called “Chemo Brain”. Most patients are not prepared when chemo brain strikes during treatment or know how to treat its debilitating effects, so in this article, you will find everything you need to know about chemo brain, how to detect this problem and what to do about it.
What is Chemo Brain?
Chemo brain is a common problem patients experience after chemotherapy. They observe cognitive changes such as brain fog, cloudiness, and difficulty thinking clearly. They may also feel exhausted, which reduces the available energy for mental functions. All of these combined symptoms are termed chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment. But most patients prefer to call it chemo brain, that is, a brain under the influence of chemo.
Chemo brain is particularly common, and there are two types (1):
Objective cognitive impairment after chemotherapy: An objective health problem is something that doctors can measure in exams or testing. They can study patients through imaging tests, brain wave tests, cognitive assessments, and more. When they get results and compare them to the patient's capacity before chemotherapy, they can objectively diagnose a case of chemo brain. This objective analysis is unlikely because most of us won't take cognitive assessment tests before chemotherapy. And, those who suffer from brain fog and other chemo-related cognitive problems are told that it is a side effect we can expect from this type of drug.
Subjective cognitive impairment after chemotherapy: Subjective means that people feel changes, but they have not been objectively measured. In this case, patients experience difficulty thinking clearly, and other symptoms we will discuss below. Most chemotherapy patients are diagnosed with subjective cognitive impairment instead of objective chemo brain because they have not been tested or diagnosed. Due to the lack of medical testing, they are are not recorded in any statistic. That's why chemo brain is far more common than stated in institutional or formal statistics. The reason why many cases are dismissed is that psychological distress causes a similar perception. But even if psychological distress is the cause, it still has a severe impact on the quality of life.
What are the symptoms of chemo brain?
How can you detect chemo brain? After chemotherapy, you could experience several signs and symptoms. Depending on the medication, the dose, and your predisposition to chemo brain, you could encounter one of these symptoms or a combination (2):
Difficulty in paying attention or concentrating: Brain fog and cloudiness are common symptoms of chemo brain. The patient takes a long time to learn new things because they cannot maintain focus for a long time. This symptom can be mild or very severe, depending on the circumstances, the drugs used, and the dose.
A reduction in executive function: The executive function is a higher brain function that allows us to compare, make decisions, and predict outcomes. It involves multiple cognitive abilities simultaneously, and most of these abilities are affected by chemo brain. Thus, problem solving and decision-making are both impaired in these patients.
Verbal problems: This is also a common problem in some patients with chemo brain. They have language impairments, verbal memory problems, or both. These language impairments include not remembering the right word or losing the flow of speech in the middle of the sentence.
Visual memory loss: Visual information is fundamental to consolidate memory. Thus, visual memory loss involves a significant impairment in memory and recollection. Due to visual memory impairments, patients may also experience spatial ability problems, especially if they already have motor coordination issues, as listed below.
Reduced information-processing speed: Brain functioning speed and reaction time in these patients is often reduced. Their thoughts are slow, their speech is usually slower than before chemotherapy, and the capacity to react to rapid stimuli becomes impaired.
Difficulty to coordinate movements: Motor function is often impaired as well, and these patients may become sluggish and clumsy. Their actions are slow and lose their precision.
How long does chemo brain last?
According to studies, up to 50% of patients experience chemo brain symptoms. However, as stated above, this number would more than likely be higher if we consider self-reported and subjective cognitive impairments.
The bright side is that you don't see all cancer survivors living with reduced cognitive capacity. They experience the symptoms during the months of chemotherapy and a few months after. This damage is usually temporary, but its severity and duration depend on different factors and is difficult to predict.
The current research about chemo brain has not yet reached any agreement. Some studies show that patients still have some cognitive impairment 10 years post-treatment. Other studies report that it only takes 1 or 2 years, then the effects of chemotherapy on the brain will have abated.
Why is there such a disparity in scientific studies? One of the reasons is patients recover differently depending on many factors. The other is that some patients keep a healthier lifestyle, follow instructions, and are lucky enough to be guided by very skilled physicians. Thus, even if they still have some cognitive problems, they will be difficult to trace (2).
Cognitive problems after chemotherapy can improve significantly depending on the interventional approach. This is known as the practice effect and includes correct medical management and particular lifestyle and habits that contribute to a faster recovery.
How do I get rid of brain fog from chemotherapy?
Even if you’re not yet fully recovered from the effects of chemotherapy, it is possible to partially regain your brain function. What your doctor does and the medication he prescribes is critical, but you can rest assured that the medical part is covered if you’re visiting a skilled specialist.
Aside from medical care, you can also contribute to your recovery of mental health function. It is not that difficult, and if you follow the instructions below, you will likely notice a difference in a matter of weeks or months. Remember that every patient has individual variables with regard to cancer treatment. Even if our recommendations apply to most patients after chemotherapy, it is always a good idea to check with your doctor before making significant changes in your diet, lifestyle, and supplementation protocol.
With that in mind, here is what has helped many patients recover their brain functions after chemotherapy (3):
A cognitive rehabilitation program is available for patients diagnosed with chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment. This rehabilitation program teaches patients to use any residual ability to compensate for the diminished one.
Even if you have not enrolled in this type of program, you can still use self-awareness to monitor yourself and determine your strengths. Through self-awareness, it is also possible to detect those circumstances in which you’re likely to experience cognitive failures. Then, after identifying these circumstances, you can learn self-regulation techniques to relax, reduce the emotional burden of the situation at hand, and proceed carefully and taking things one at a time.
This process sounds effortless, but it is a skill that requires patience and a lot of practice. Ultimately, it will become an extraordinary tool when you recover your cognitive abilities.
Another lifestyle recommendation is to engage in physical activity. Exercise will stimulate your energy metabolism and reduce the sensation of fatigue in the long term. It seems counterintuitive, but this is true. With time, exercise will give your brain more energy and allow you to think more clearly. Exercise also works as a prevention strategy you can adopt before chemotherapy to slow down cognitive decline. This is similar to a surgeon telling a patient to exercise prior to knee surgery to speed up the recovery process. This is also helpful for older adults to prevent cognitive decline and improve their quality of life.
Finally, it is vital to keep yourself poised and your emotions controlled. Expressing your feelings and coping with stress is extremely important. Otherwise, anger, stress, and anxiety will get in the way, and can worsen cognitive problems. In contrast, practicing relaxation techniques, sleeping your 7-8 hours per night, and staying organized will keep your mind primed for higher executive functions.
We are defined by what we eat. Dietary factors have a significant burden on how your brain performs. They also play a role in the management of chemo brain.
Chemotherapy agents induce significant oxidative stress in the brain. Thus, it will be wise to consume foods with a high antioxidant potential to slow down the cognitive decline experienced after chemo. This dietary advice should be implemented before, during, and after chemotherapy sessions. Therefore, your brain will be protected from the oxidative stress caused by these aggressive cancer treatment drugs.
Another recommendation is to follow a diet with reduced saturated fat and adjusted calorie intake. This dietary adjustment is a typical recommendation to slow the rate of cognitive decline in aging individuals and has been proposed as a method for chemotherapy patients. Saturated fats induce inflammation and inhibit neurogenesis and other regenerative substances in the brain that help you to recover. Thus, this diet should be maintained after chemotherapy sessions are over, as it will help regain your brain function more quickly.
As noted above, antioxidants are essential to prevent cognitive decay and recover your brain function. You can find them in the natural flavonoids contained in fresh foods. But you can also find concentrated antioxidants in supplement form. They are recommended as an addition before, during, and after treating patients with chemotherapy agents. However, not all antioxidant supplements are appropriate for all chemotherapy drugs, and you need to check with your doctor.
Herbal supplements are also beneficial, especially those that regulate blood flow in the brain, boost catecholamine production, and protect healthy brain cells from apoptosis. Different herbs share these neuroprotective effects, but one of the most acclaimed is Ginkgo Biloba. This particular herb has been tested in randomized control trials in cancer survivors, with excellent results. It prevents cognitive problems after cancer therapy and may also help recover our brain function faster.
How Neupanex helps rebuild your brain and lift brain fog
Now that we’re talking about supplements, we should also consider another type. They are called nootropics. These compounds boost neurocognitive function by facilitating nerve transmission, facilitating neuroplasticity, supporting the brain, and calming the mind.
In particular, we recommend Neupanex as the best choice for patients with chemo brain due to its precise combination of ingredients you cannot find elsewhere. They include:
Coenzyme Q10: This is both an antioxidant substance and a potent energy source. It prevents brain fog by increasing energy production in cells and protecting them from oxidative stress (4).
Turmeric root: It is a potent anti-inflammatory substance. As such, it slows the rate of inflammatory damage to the brain tissue during chemotherapy treatment (5).
Alpha-lipoic acid: Alpha-lipoic acid has been studied as adjuvant therapy for cancer treatment with excellent results (6).
Melatonin: This is a hormone that your body produces to regulate the circadian rhythm. It is advantageous for patients to fall asleep and recover their energies. It can be helpful in chemotherapy patients who find it hard to fall asleep, experiencing irritability, psychological stress, and daytime sleepiness. Studies also show a direct neuroprotective effect in patients undergoing chemotherapy, counteracting the adverse effects on cognitive function (7).
Overall, Neupanex is a promising supplement for patients with chemo brain. For better results, it should be consumed before, during, and after chemotherapy treatment. That way, patients will benefit from its neuroprotective effects and experience a faster recovery of their cognitive function.
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