'Chemo brain' is real but cause unknown

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

Dear B.G.: Scientists are still trying understand this phenomenon, which they call "chemo brain." Even with modern technology, the exact cause of chemo brain has evaded scientists.

Do you know that your brain needs glucose in order to work, grow, and think? Your noggin uses more than 20 percent of the fuel derived from food. Fuel is equal to glucose in this case. Knowing this tidbit, scientists recently made a discovery that will help chemo brain sufferers. Researchers at the West Virginia University School of Medicine 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 light up brightly when glucose is utilized. These brighter areas show the regions of the brain that are actively "eating' glucose." Glucose feeds the brain.

The brains of chemotherapy-treated patients still lit up, but they were much duller in brightness, indicating less activity. 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.

So what can you do to help your partner? First, tell her it may get better after completing 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, too.

There also are supplements at health food stores and 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.

This is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose your condition. Go to SuzyCohen.com.

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