When I was going through chemotherapy, all of the people in my cancer support group who were also undergoing chemo were complaining about chemobrain – and it was clear that they were forgetful, vague, preoccupied, and befuddled!
While I had it to a certain degree, for me it was much more manageable and manifested itself as a slightly sort of foggy or vague feeling.
Finally someone asked me why I seemed to be doing so much better than the others and I confessed I really didn’t know. And then it hit me several days later while I was in the bathroom applying my essential oils. Of course, it was the essential oils that I use daily, and I knew that no one else in my support group was doing that.
Certain essential oils have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, which is a naturally occurring barrier in your brain created by brain blood vessels that prevents many substances from leaving the blood and crossing the capillary walls into the brain tissues. It’s a defensive mechanism designed to protect your brain from harmful chemicals.
Here are my favorites for battling the effects of chemobrain:
1. Frankincense – used in religious ceremonies for thousands of years, frankincense has wonderful medicinal properties – it has potent anti-disease properties, it is an immune stimulant, good for respiratory infections, it helps promote meditation, improves attitude and uplifts spirits.
2. Sandalwood – it grows in India, it has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine for skin revitalization, meditation and yoga. It also has potent anti-disease properties, it enhances sleep, stimulates the pineal gland in the brain which is the center of emotions and is responsible for melatonin production. Sandalwood was mentioned in Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica (A.D. 78), which was Europe’s first medical guide and became the standard reference for herbal treatments for over 1700 years.
3. Palo Santo – found in South America, used by the Incas to purify and cleanse, to repel mosquitoes, for fevers, infections and skin diseases. Its name means holy or sacred wood. It is one of my favorite oils. It also has anti-disease properties, good for arthritis, respiratory problems and breathing it deeply opens your brain!
Palo Santo Tree
4. Peppermint – this is especially good for digestion. I used it when going through chemotherapy because it helped ease excess stomach acid. Put a drop of peppermint oil in a glass of water – it will not only wake up your brain, it will relieve the icky tummy that chemo causes. It also improves your sense of taste by stimulating the trigeminal nerve.
5. Lavender – calming, relaxing, balancing, lavender is another anti-disease oil, it helps with respiratory infections, it’s an anti-inflammatory, great for mosquito bites, burns, skin conditions, so many things. University of Miami researchers found that inhaling lavender oil increased beta waves in the brain – the beta waves are what come out to play when you are in an ultra-relaxed state such as meditation or sleep. I love deep breathing lavender – it has such a profound effect on the nervous system.
Regular use of essential oils – whether it be through inhalation, diffusing, bathing, or massaging them into your body promotes health in so many ways. Battling chemobrain is one of many uses for essential oils. Just beware of the source because not all oils are created equally. Use a a medicinal grade essential oil! For more info, see my page: Essential Oils for Overall Health and Specific Health Problems.
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What I liked about it was that if you keep it handy, you can take note of anything odd or troublesome AS IT HAPPENS because trust me – if you don’t write it down, you can easily forget about it when the doctor asks how you’re doing at your next visit. They don’t call it “chemobrain” for nothing. So print out the Chemotherapy Side Effects Worksheet and keep it nearby for easy reference.
I will keep it on my Useful Links page as well, just in case you need another copy.
If you have any questions or need any help, you can contact me.
If you’d like to stay connected, sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and markuso
Chemo Brain Is The Real Deal (and What To Do About It)
Anyone going through chemotherapy understands the term “chemo brain” very well. A friend currently undergoing chemotherapy laughingly described it as: “It’s the drugs causing your brain function to go to hell in a hand basket!”
Around 2008, US researchers finally identified what might be going on. They reported that the common chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) can kill certain stem cells and their progeny that are responsible for producing the myelin sheath (the part of your brain that allows proper transmission of signals within the brain).
It can also be caused by some medications such as antibiotics, corticosteriods, and drugs that treat cancer related symptoms. The anemia that results from some types of chemotherapy can also be responsible, as well as nutritional deficiences in iron, folic acid, and vitamin B.
So it’s not your imagination! How annoying is it though? It’s like your brain just can’t get there – you know you used to know the answer but it’s just out of reach right now.
Fortunately, complementary and alternative medicine have some remedies for us.
Here are 6 of the Best Remedies for Chemo Brain
Aromatherapy: essential oils of frankincense, sandalwood, bergamot, elemi, palo santo, orange, lavender, peppermint, and tangerine can be very helpful for chemo brain. These were my favorites and still are. You can diffuse them, inhale them directly from the bottle or put them on pulse points and breathe deeply! One of the ways they assist is by bringing more oxygen into your body and brain and clearing the synapses of chemical residues.
Yoga and Meditation: yoga and meditation support the body, mind, and spirit, both during and after treatments. The practice of yoga and meditation offers physical, psychological, and spiritual support to the whole person and can definitely help with chemo brain.
Bodywork: massage, reflexology and acupressure are all wonderful to help relieve symptoms of chemo brain – they increase your circulation, help you relax and detox a little from the drugs.
Herbal teas: try teas with citrus, peppermint (also nice for the digestive system), frankincense, ashwagandha, gingko, or rosemary.
Supplements: consult a naturopath or qualified integrative cancer provider for advice on herbs or vitamins that will improve brain function. Integrative cancer providers assess each patient individually and identify specific supplements.
Imagery: imagery is the use of your imagination to visualize things you want to bring about in your life. Imagery for cancer patients (among many other benefits) helps to prevent or reduce nausea from chemotherapy drugs, it also helps with creativity and problem-solving abilities.
So get out there and try some new things and get rid of that chemo brain!
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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and Now and Zen Photography
Chemobrain Does Exist
I am an 8-year breast cancer survivor and to this day I maintain that the “therapy” I underwent caused me to have cognitive difficulties I still struggle with!
Now there’s research that bears this out. Science Daily reported in December 2011 that breast cancer survivors may experience problems with certain mental abilities several years after treatment, regardless of whether they were treated with chemotherapy plus radiation or radiation only. Interesting!
The article stated that “previous research suggests that chemotherapy can cause problems with memory and concentration in breast cancer survivors. To compare the effects of different types of cancer treatment on such mental abilities, Paul Jacobsen, PhD, of the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, and his colleagues examined 62 breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy plus radiation, 67 patients treated with radiation only, and 184 women with no history of cancer. Study participants completed neuropsychological assessments six months after completing treatment and again 36 months later, which is further out from the end of treatment than most previous studies of this type.”
The study confirmed that chemotherapy CAN cause cognitive problems in breast cancer survivors that persist for three years after they finish treatment.
In addition, the investigators found that breast cancer survivors who had been treated with radiation (and not chemotherapy) often experienced problems similar to those in breast cancer survivors treated with both chemotherapy and radiation. They did not find that hormonal therapy (such as tamoxifen) caused cognitive difficulties.
It’s interesting that the study was done on both chemotherapy patients and radiation patients – all too often people are happy to lump cognitive difficulties into the “chemobrain” classification but obviously it’s not just chemotherapy that causes the problem.
I do have several things that helped me with this problem – if you’d like to know more, just sign up for my newsletters on the right and you’ll get two free reports, the first of which outlines everything I did that helped me!
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About Marnie Clark
Hi I'm Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor, and breast cancer coach. I have 20+ years of experience in natural medicine. In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.
I've been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!
Why should you work with me? Because:
(1) You don't want to go through this journey alone, feeling unempowered, frightened or just plain
clueless about what to do to help yourself.
(2) You will have someone working tirelessly on your behalf, putting together a healing plan for
you so you don’t have to lose your precious energy researching what food you should eat,
what supplements you should take, and what other things you can do that will give you the
best chances for survival. Instead you can spend that time resting, meditating, healing.
(3) You will learn what questions to ask your doctor (and have someone to turn to for the
questions they can't or won't answer).
(4) You will be armed with the tools and strategies you will need to get through the therapies you
choose so you can make your body hostile terrain for cancer.
You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.