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Research demonstrates that increasing oxygen to the brain can facilitate repair. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) administers pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. HBOT has been primarily utilized for wound healing and decompression sickness, a hazard of scuba diving. It may also help repair brain damage. Preliminary research primarily involving traumatic brain injury demonstrates that HBOT induces neuroplasticity that repairs impaired brain function.32 The same neurological improvements in neuroplasticity were also seen in post stroke patients who utilized HBOT.33 Presently HBOT is not a recognized treatment for cancer-related cognitive dysfunction; however, the potential efficacy is intriguing.
Because chemo brain can significantly affect quality of life in some patients, referral to a psychotherapist may be beneficial. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a blend of cognitive and behavioral principles to help patients deal with dysfunctional cognitive processes and maladaptive behaviors. CBT can be especially effective in cases where depression and anxiety are present.34
In addition to psychotherapy and CBT, patients may benefit from speed of processing training as seen in brain fitness software programs. In one study, immediate and delayed memory was improved significantly compared with those who did not go through the brain fitness training.35
Finally, long-term meditation practitioners have thicker callosal regions, which leads to greater connectivity. 36 Brain mapping has in fact demonstrated enhanced structural connectivity in meditators compared with controls throughout the entire brain.37 Certainly, meditation would be a solid component of a self-care plan for individuals with chemo brain.
Presently, conventional medicine provides few options for patients who are experiencing chemo brain. After carefully considering potential underlying functional issues affected by chemotherapy – specifically brain connectivity, neurological inflammation, and nerve growth factor levels, integrative practitioners can work to rebuild greater cognitive function through a combination of targeted brain botanicals and nutrients such as lion's mane mushroom, acetyl-L-carnitine, citicoline, curcumin, and rosemary. Recommending HBOT, CBT, brain-building games, and meditation may also prove valuable for some of these patients. These treatments certainly do not represent an exhaustive list of cognitive-enhancing therapies. The most important take-away is to ask patients who have completed chemotherapy about their cognition. If cognitive challenges are present, integrative practitioners have a myriad of strategies to offer to these patients.
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Dr. Lise Alschuler received her ND degree from Bastyr University in 1994 and is board certified in naturopathic oncology. She is past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and was a founding board member of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She is the coauthor of The Definitive Guide to Cancer: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment and Healing, now in its 3rd edition (Random House, 2010) and Five To Thrive: Your Cutting-Edge Cancer Prevention Plan (AIM Publishers, 2011). She, along with her coauthor Karolyn Gazella, have created www.FiveToThrivePlan.com, a multimedia website dedicated to sharing information about integrative cancer prevention and treatment. They also cohost a daily radio show, Five To Thrive Live! on www.w4CS.com, which provides listeners with tools for living healthier lives in the face of cancer.
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