Do you have trouble concentrating? Are you more forgetful than you used to be, or find you often “zone out” during the day? You may be dealing with brain fog (also called cognitive dysfunction).
Brain fog can be a side effect of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Some medications related to cancer treatment, such as hormone treatments, anti-nausea drugs, steroids or pain medications, can also lead to brain fog. It can last a short time or go on for years, which can make it difficult to do what you enjoy. So what can you do about it?
First, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to try to figure out what might be causing the brain fog. Problems such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, low blood counts and deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can also lead to poor concentration and memory. Get these things checked out to see if there’s another cause of brain fog that can be helped.
And now, here are six tips that can help you boost your brain power. These tips can help people with and without brain fog.
1. Balance that plate
Make your meal a brain-boosting one by choosing a balance between vegetables, healthy protein sources, whole grains and omega 3 fatty acids. Not only do each of these offer nutrients that support brain health, but a balanced meal that contains protein and fibre will help keep your blood sugar stable, preventing your blood sugar from dropping. If your blood sugar drops, this can make you feel foggy, cranky and tired, which all make it hard to concentrate. Try to eat a balanced meal or snack every 3-4 hours to keep a constant supply of energy heading to your brain and to prevent dips in blood sugar.
2. Power up with protein
Proteins are needed to make neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that send messages to help you remember things, perform tasks and help regulate your mood too. All great reasons to add healthy proteins such as beans, lentils, fish, lean chicken or turkey, or eggs to your plate.
3. Go for whole grains
Whole grains are often considered to be brain boosting foods, as they contain nutrients such as folate, zinc and magnesium.
- Folate is a B vitamin that may help to reduce cognitive impairment in older adults. Cognitive impairment is changes in memory, thinking and judgment that are worse than changes from normal aging. Some research studies suggest that not getting enough folate as an adult can lead to higher risk of dementia.
- Zinc plays a role in regulating mood. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include depression in adults and behavioural problems in children.
- Magnesium helps brain function by reducing the impact of stress on the body. Magnesium can also prevent stress hormones from crossing over from the blood and into the brain.
4. Vie for more veggies and fruit
Choose vegetables and fruits in a variety of colours to pack in a variety of antioxidants. Antioxidants help to protect your cells from damage from the environment and aging. For example, veggies and fruit that are bright red, purple or blue are rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins. Studies suggest that anthocyanins can protect brain cells from free-radical damage and improve signaling between nerve and brain cells. If you are going through radiation treatment, it is ok to get antioxidants from foods like vegetables and fruit. Just don’t take antioxidant supplements. These supplements have very large amounts of antioxidants which may prevent the radiation from working as well.
5. Own those omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in brain functions such as memory, learning and behaviour. In fact, some of the symptoms of omega- 3 deficiency include poor memory and depressed mood. People with low dietary intakes of omega- 3s are more likely to have memory problems, particularly as they get older. Omega- 3 fatty acids may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. You can find Omega-3s in fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, and arctic char, walnuts, seeds and their oils such as flax, chia and hemp.
6. Harness hydration
A common cause of poor concentration is dehydration, or not getting enough fluids. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration (losing 1.5% of your body water) can cloud how you process information and your judgment. Healthy adults should aim to get 2 litres of fluids per day, or more if you are doing intense exercise, sweating lots, or are losing fluids due to vomiting or diarrhea. Fluids are anything that is liquid at room temperature, such as popsicles, jello, broth or tea.
Don’t rely on thirst to tell you when you need more fluid. By the time your thirst signal reaches your brain, you are already dehydrated enough for it to negatively affect your mood and ability to think clearly. An easy way to see if you are getting enough fluids is to notice the colour of your urine. It should be pale yellow (the colour of straw) if you are hydrated. Dark yellow or tan coloured urine suggests you are dehydrated and need to get more fluids.
There is also a great class at ELLICSR called
What You Can Do About Brain Fog that helps provide practical tips to help you manage. You can also check out a pamphlet on
Cancer-Related Braing Fog for things to try.