In Recovery & Healthy Living

Is There Hope for “Chemo Brain”

If you have been treated for cancer with chemotherapy you more than likely have experienced “chemo brain.”  Foggy thinking, poor memory, the decline in cognitive function, attention, and sometimes motor skills.

New research has found that cancer patients treated with chemotherapy and radiation often suffered a loss of cognitive function known as chemo brain. The study, published in the journal Cancer, evaluated 94 women who had been treated for breast cancer in the last 3-6 years. They evaluated not only the womens cognitive function but also biological markers linked to aging. They found significant damage to their DNA, especially telomeres.

What are telomeres? 

Telomeres are found at the end of the DNA strand.  They protect the chromosomes from fraying or connecting to other chromosomes.  As cells divide to make new cells, telomeres get shorter. As cells naturally divide, the telomeres become shorter, until the cells are no longer protected and die. This is what we call aging. The shorter your telomeres, the more aging your cells experience.

The research found that women who had been exposed to chemotherapy, radiation, or both had significantly more DNA damage and lower telomere activity. This should come as no surprise because chemotherapy is not “targeted” at just cancer cells (unless it is Insulin Potentiated chemo which is more targeted), there is collateral damage to healthy cells as well.

It is precisely this cellular damage that results in chemo brain. According to the study:

“The potential for the long-term impact of radiation and chemotherapy on the health and quality of life for cancer survivors is of increasing concern. In particular, these treatments may have a lasting effect on the rate of aging in various tissues in the body.”

Dr. Judith Carroll from Cousins Centre for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA elaborates:

“These findings are important because they provide further information about what might be happening after cancer treatment that impacts cognitive decline in some individuals.”

So What Can You Do?

Here is some good news.  When my husband was done with his cancer treatments, we were able to restore his body.  He had multiple surgeries, 6 weeks of upper and lower body radiation, and one year of chemotherapy.  He was told he might live ten years.  That was thirty-eight years ago, he’s now 78 years old!  Not that he didn’t have side effects of the treatment, mostly in the heart from the radiation that required a couple of surgeries, but he’s living proof that you can rebuild your brain, and immune system and help your body repair from the damage.

It’s important to understand that this will take time. A British study conducted by the University of Leeds and published in the January 2016 edition of Breast Cancer Researcher took a look at how chemotherapy affected immune system health in 88 breast cancer patients.

Leeds researchers found breast cancer chemotherapy to be associated with long-term changes in immune parameters that should be considered during clinical management.” These changes included a drastic reduction in T, B, and Natural Killer cell counts after just two weeks of treatment. The study also discovered that certain immune system cells, including T cells, remained significantly lower a whole 9 months after treatment ended.

You must give yourself time to heal.  

Here are some tips to detox from chemotherapy and build your immune system.

Anti-inflammatory Diet

A “brain on fire” is not going to function well. Here is a list of anti-inflammatory foods.

High cruciferous diet

Including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussel sprouts.  Broccoli sprouts boost natural killer cells and help kill and dispose of senescence cells (cells that are not functioning but are not disposed of.)  Cruciferous vegetables help your body detoxify the chemotherapy drugs.  

You can go here to learn how to sprout broccoli seeds, I find it very easy to do.

Curcumin

There are over 200 documented studies to date that address the effects of curcumin on breast cancer in particular. And there are literally thousands of positive results this component of the Indian spice turmeric can have on the immune system.  It is also a potent anti-inflammatory substance. 

Chlorella –

Chlorella is known for detoxifying heavy metals. It is a “binder” as well as an immune booster.  It also contains chlorophyll which increases blood oxygenation.  It increases glutathione levels which is your master antioxidant and detoxifier at the cellular level and in the liver.

Move your bowels –

This is a crucial step in the healing process.  While you try and detoxify the drugs, you must move them out through the bowel, kidney (drink lot’s of pure water), and lymphatic system (try dry brushing).  Consider a 24-hour juice fast along with some herbal support for the bowels.  Charcoal has long been used for poison patients, and rightly so because it grabs onto toxins and removes them through the bowel.  To promote an activated charcoal detox of your digestive system, take 10 grams 90 minutes before each meal, for two days.  This comes in powder or pill form. Beware, the powder tastes like charcoal!

Many, many supplements can help rebuild the immune system.  The focus of this article is to help the body detoxify so the brain can begin to function again.  Each person’s cancer journey is different.  Some folks experience chemo brain and others not so much.  Either way, a gentle detox when your treatment is done can do wonders for restoring a healthy immune system and lowering inflammation, and detoxing cellular damage.  

For a complete program on recovering from your cancer treatments, consider my Hope 4 Cancer Recovery Program. 

In health,
Chris 

References:

Zhang Y, Tang L. Discovery and development of sulforaphane as a cancer chemopreventive phytochemical. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2007 Sep;28(9):1343-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-7254.2007.00679.x. PMID: 17723168.

Cognitive performance in survivors of breast cancer and markers of biological aging, 26, November, 2018, Kathleen Van Dyk PhD, Julienne E. Bower PhD, Zorica Scuric PhD,Laura Petersen MS,Robert Schiestl PhD,Michael R. Irwin MD,Patricia A. Ganz MD, https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.31777

Curcumin and cancer: an “old-age” disease with an “age-old” solution,
Anand P, Sundaram C, Jhurani S, Kunnumakkara AB, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin and cancer: an “old-age” disease with an “age-old” solution. Cancer Lett. 2008 Aug 18;267(1):133-64. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2008.03.025. Epub 2008 May 6. PMID: 18462866.

About the Author: Chris McKee

Chris McKee Certified Nutritionist and Certified Diet Counselo

Chris McKee is a Certified Nutritionist and Certified Diet Counselor with over 30 years of experience in whole-food cooking, healthy lifestyle coaching, individual nutritional counseling and speaking to 1,000’s of people about the role of good nutrition in preventing disease.

Chris is also a Certified Nutragenomix practitioner and this allows her to look deep into your genetic profile and personalize your nutrition program based on your unique genetic fingerprint.

She runs on-line courses including her 10 Day Clean Eating Challenge, 21 Days Prepping for the Keto Diet as well as her Hope 4 Cancer Recovery program.

Chris and her husband Ed love to travel, hence the name “The Nomadic Nutritionist”.  She is a grandmother of four and a great-grandma of two!  She loves to cook, explore new food finds, hike and fish.

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