Omega-3 fatty acids, memory games, and physical exercise are a few ways to help improve chemo brain.
If you’ve recently undergone cancer treatment, you might be experiencing difficulties with concentration, memory lapses, and mental fogginess, commonly known as “chemo brain.”
Beyond chemotherapy, cognitive impairment can also result from other cancer treatments like radiation therapy, hormone therapies, and the disease itself. This broader condition, called cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI), recognizes the impact of various treatments and the disease on cognition.
Although no medications are approved for chemo brain, ongoing research explores natural treatments, with promising results for cognitive exercises, physical exercise, and supplements.
Cognitive exercises are one of the best non-medical treatments for chemo brain. They’re designed to challenge and stimulate the brain, which may lead to improvements in memory, speed of processing, and overall cognitive function over time.
Here are some examples of cognitive exercises you can try for chemo brain:
- Memory games: Play memory-enhancing games like card matching, word recall games, or Sudoku puzzles to exercise your memory and attention.
- Brain teasers: Engage in brain teasers, riddles, or puzzles that require problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
- Crossword puzzles: Solve crossword puzzles to improve language and verbal skills while boosting memory and concentration.
- Reading and learning: Read books, articles, or educational materials to maintain cognitive stimulation and promote comprehension and vocabulary.
- Mindfulness meditation: Practice mindfulness meditation to enhance focus, reduce stress, and improve cognitive resilience. In one
studywith 117 breast cancer survivors, both mindfulness-based intervention and physical training led to reduced cognitive complaints and improved psychological well-being.
- Jigsaw puzzles: Try working on jigsaw puzzles to improve your visual-spatial skills and attention to detail.
- Computer- or video game-based cognitive training: Consider using cognitive training apps or software designed to challenge memory, attention, and other cognitive functions.
Both groups showed cognitive improvements over time, with the early intervention group reporting better subjective ability to think and significant improvements in specific cognitive tasks, such as reaction time and memory.
However, the exact role of video gaming in this improvement remains uncertain, and further research is needed.
The following exercises and mind-body approaches may help promote cognitive health, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being:
- Aerobic exercise: Activities like walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming may enhance blood flow to the brain, promote neuroplasticity, and support cognitive function.
- Resistance (strength) training: Resistance exercises with weights or resistance bands may improve overall physical health, which can positively impact cognitive abilities.
- Mind-body exercises: Activities that focus on balance and coordination, like yoga or tai chi, may help with cognitive processing and enhance body-mind connections.
- Mindfulness meditation: Practicing mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety and promote mental clarity and focus, which may help alleviate chemo brain symptoms.
Out of 29 trials analyzed, 45% (13 trials) found that exercise improved cognitive function. In addition, two trials showed that aerobic or combined aerobic and resistance exercise had positive effects on objective cognitive tests. Although the evidence is limited, the findings suggest that exercise may help improve CRCI measures.
There are several supplements that may help with chemo brain fog. However, be sure to discuss these supplements with your treatment team to ensure they do not interact with your cancer treatment or decrease its efficacy.
Fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids)
The study also found that a diet high in sugar could cancel out the omega-3 benefits.
ALC is an amino acid derivative that may have antioxidant properties and support brain energy metabolism. While studies on ALC for chemo brain are lacking, dementia research shows that ALC may slow cognitive decline.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts beneficial for gut health. They may help alleviate brain fog by modulating gut microbes, influencing brain function through the gut-brain axis.
In a study of 159 breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, probiotics reduced CRCI incidence and improved cognitive functions.
Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric that has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, may help protect the brain from oxidative stress.
Taking antioxidants, such as E and C, may help counteract the damaging effects of oxidative stress.
Natural treatments, like cognitive exercises, mind-body techniques, and supplements, show promise in addressing chemo brain — a common cognitive impairment experienced by those who have undergone cancer treatment.
Ongoing research suggests these natural approaches hold potential benefits for memory, concentration, and overall cognitive function.
If you or a loved one faces cognitive challenges due to cancer treatment, these natural treatments may be worth trying as part of a comprehensive approach. Remember to consult with your healthcare team before taking any supplements.