Cancer treatment using chemo drugs (chemotherapy) has long been associated with problems that are referred to by chemo patients as "chemo-brain" and sometimes "chemo-fog". It is one of the chemotherapy side effects.
What are the chemo brain symptoms?
Chemo brain and brain chemo fog refer to thinking and memory problems. It refers to a decline in mental ability, trouble concentrating, and fuzzy thinking in many patients receiving chemotherapy.
The problems are in retrieving memories, fumbling over words, focusing attention, losing one's train of thought, and an inability to multi-task, rather than forming memories or intelligence. Sometimes, learning a new thing is harder.
How long does chemo brain symptoms last?
The problem appears after chemotherapy. Sixty-one percent of chemo patients complained of these problems. Even 1 year later over half of these patients still did not show improvement. It is one of the long term side effects of chemotherapy. Recent studies published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology suggest it may last for decades.
Understanding Why Chemo Brain Happens
Scientific research published in 2008 done by Mark Noble and fellow scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center, New York,* found the scientific reasons for this problem. (See Research Study Article)
In their study, they found that nerve cells would become damaged and that this damage increased even weeks after the administration of the chemotherapy drug was completed.
They found that the myelin sheath (protective outer covering) of the nerve was damaged and that this damage often became worse over time. In other words, the problem was caused by the loss of this fatty insulation protecting the brain's vital nerve connections.
Dr. Mark Noble, team leader, said "This is the first study that puts 'chemo-brain' on a sound scientific footing, in terms of neurobiology and cellular biology."
Vitamin Deficiencies and Chemo Brain
The body uses vitamins to function and repair itself which it normally gets from food. If the body becomes depleted of these vitamins, it cannot function correctly. Vitamin deficiencies can be created when the body is under different forms of stress - both physical and mental.
The stress of day to day life associated with cancer and its treatments, any medications used to deal with pain or any of the various side effects from chemotherapy, all deplete the body of vitamins, especially the B vitamins.
Whether the vitamin deficiency is coming from stress or from medications, the important B vitamins are being used up by the body.
B vitamins are needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes and liver. They also help the nervous system function properly, and are needed for good brain function.
Increasing the level of B vitamins in the blood stream can help repair the nerve damage connected with chemo brain.
The Problem with "Ordinary" Vitamin B1 & B12
Vitamin B1, Thiamine (sometimes spelled Thiamin), like all of the B vitamins, is water-soluble. Thiamine cannot be stored in the body and flushes out within 4 to 5 hours. It is hard for the body to hold onto it long enough to make a difference.
The most common type of vitamin B12 used in supplements is called Cyanocobalamine. The body must convert the Cyanocobalamin (which cannot be used by the body) to a form of vitamin B12 the body can use called Methylcobalamin. Unfortunately, as the body gets older it loses this ability to convert Cyanocobalamin to Methylcobalamin.
In the past it has also been difficult to remedy the B12 deficiency. The reason for this is that while vitamin B12 is readily stored by the body, it is not readily absorbed by the body. For this reason much larger amounts have been used in supplementation, but even large oral dosages have not been an adequate solution.
The most common type of vitamin B12 used in supplements is called Cyanocobalamine. Taking Cyanocobalamine can result in absorption of as little as 1/2 of 1% of the amount taken, which makes it almost impossible to get enough of this vitally important vitamin.
In addition to the very low absorption, the body must convert the Cyanocobalamine (which cannot be used by the body) to a form of vitamin B12 the body can use called Methylcobalamine. Unfortunately, as the body gets older it loses this ability to convert Cobalamine to Methylcobalamine.
For the above reasons, as people get older, many physicians recommend regular monthly injections of vitamin B12 to maintain adequate body levels or to replenish greatly depleted stores of this vital nutrient.
A special type of vitamin B1 called Benfotiamine and a special type of vitamin B12 called Methyl B12
Now, a new
type of vitamin B1 has been produced, called Benfotiamine. It is a fat-soluble
version of vitamin B1. What does this mean? It means this new form of
vitamin B1 can be taken orally in large dosages and it will not flush
out of the body the way ordinary Thiamine (vitamin B1) does. The result
is that by taking Benfotiamine the blood stream levels of vitamin B1 can
now be greatly increased.