Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common side effects associated with both radiation and chemotherapy. It also occurs during the malignant phase too. Quality of life can be significantly impacted, cancer survivors tend to experience cancer related fatigue and other commonly associated symptoms including sleep disturbance, pain, depression, and anxiety. Pharmacological options are limited and are often associated with further side effects. A natural approach is a safer way to alleviate these symptoms. While there are many ways to reduce symptoms, during active conventional treatment, the focus of this blog is on post-treatment cancer related fatigue/chemo brain.
What is Cancer related fatigue (CRF)?
Cancer related fatigue is defined as a persistent, subjective fatigue that interferes with the patient’s ability to carry out normal daily activities.
This is different than other forms of fatigue such as overexertion or flu-related fatigue, which is typically resolved with rest and sleep. In cases of CRF, the fatigue becomes pathological when it occurs during normal activities, does not improve and therefore severely impacts a patient’s quality of life.
What Causes Chemo Brain?
Scientists believe chemo brain has more than one cause. In some cases the disease itself or the drugs used to fight the disease that causes cognitive impairment. For others, problems with mental clarity can arise from the stress of having cancer, from lack of sleep, or from developing depression or anxiety. Cognitive difficulties can also arise due to the patient’s age or other health problems not relating to the disease.
Ways to BIOHACK Chemo Brain/Fatigue
- Exercise: Cardiovascular exercise is one of the strongest drivers of brain repair after injury, stimulating the growth of new neurons, facilitating connections between brain cells, and enhancing overall cognitive resilience.
- Practice Mindfulness: Yoga and Meditation can help your ability to pay attention to detail. These types of practices teach you how to focus your attention. They can also help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Stay organized, have a to do list and ensure that tasks for the day are set out and ready to be completed.
- Eating a well-balanced diet: A diet rich in antioxidants can be helpful in minimizing cancer therapy-related damage to brain cells and unwanted cognitive side effects from cancer therapy. Therefore, enriching your diet with fruits and vegetables, along with weight loss (if you are overweight or obese), are highly recommended strategies.
- Get enough sleep: Chronic sleep deprivation damages brain cells, prevents brain regeneration, causes daytime fatigue, and reduces cognitive function. Poor sleep also impairs the basic mechanism that eliminates toxic waste in the brain — a process that primarily happens during sleep. Simple behavioural changes to improve sleep hygiene include avoiding neurostimulants prior to bedtime (coffee, chocolate, beverages with high sugar content, etc.), and minimizing exposure to electronic devices in your bedroom. Meditation and various relaxation techniques can also be helpful to improve sleep.
- Adaptogens: Most adaptogenic herbs help to increase the body’s resistance to stress but some of these have specific individual quirks that make them a bit more special in assisting Cancer related fatigue/Chemo Brain.
Adaptogens to the rescue!
- Ashwagandha is a traditional herbal medicine that has been used in India for hundreds of years for relieving fatigue and exhaustion associated with physical and emotional stress. A recent study found that Stage 2 and Stage 3 breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy reported less fatigue and improved quality of life when the herbal medicine Ashwagandha was used during the course of their treatment.
- N-Acetylcysteine can be used to combat fatigue felt by those patients who had chemo. One of the reasons fatigue, nausea and loss of appetite occurs is due to liver toxicity. During chemotherapy the liver becomes overburdened with removing toxins within the body. N-Acetylcysteine can assist with supporting the liver to function normally. * This needs to be carefully managed with the help of your practitioner.
- Coenzyme Q10(known as CoQ10) is a compound that is made in the body. The body uses it for cell growth and to protect cells from damage. Coenzyme Q10 has shown an ability to stimulate the immune system and to protect the heart from damage caused by certain chemotherapy Low blood levels of coenzyme Q10 has been detected in patients with some types of cancer. Thus supplementing with CoQ10 with the guidance of a medical practitioner may be beneficial. (Study of CoQ10 — University of Miami Medicine)
- Rhodiola Rosea is a traditional botanical medicine that has been used for centuries to increase physical endurance, enhance longevity, and treat depression, fatigue as well as other health issues. Specific to cancer, preliminary studies have shown that Rhodiola Rosea may enhance the effects of chemotherapy in general and potentially reduce universal side effects such as fatigue and cognitive impairment.
- Cordyceps Mushroom acts as an immune stimulator by raising cancer- and virus-fighting T Cells & enhancing Natural Killer Cells. Thus prolonging the life of white blood cells and improving resolution of infections. Cordyceps has demonstrated anti-tumor properties and also protects the kidneys from chemotherapy side effects. It is one of the most widely used tonics in anti-cancer formulas in Chinese Medicine.
No matter what side effects chemo/radiation causes, it’s possible to take steps to increase your quality of life after treatment. Make sure you consult your oncologist beforehand.
This blog is made available by OPTMZ. We are not medical professionals, nutritionists or dieticians. Please do not make any changes to your lifestyle or diet without discussing it with your health care practitioner. Every single individual is unique, therefore, you are responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health. The information in this blog is based on research and all content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only. This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Content should also not be considered a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.