Mental fuzziness is common after cancer treatment. Known as chemo brain, the issue can cause problems with learning new information, concentrating, multi-tasking, and remembering words. For many, this persists well after treatment. There are things you can do that may help, with some research indicating exercise may be beneficial, and a new study may have found another approach.
Research from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and the University of Adelaide investigated how the gut microbiome could help tackle chemo brain, as past research has linked it with neuroinflammation. To test this, the team gave fiber supplements, known to impact the microbiome, to mice. Their findings, published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, show that this may be a helpful approach for humans looking to fight back against chemo brain.
Lead researcher Dr. Courtney Cross from the University of Adelaide says, “We found that fiber supplementation directly causes positive changes in the gut microbiome and has the potential to alleviate brain inflammation following chemotherapy.
“Our study showed fiber reduced inflammation in the brain region responsible for memory by as much as 50%. This is really exciting because fiber supplementation is such a simple intervention that can be implemented cheaply and easily.”
They tested the supplementation on 24 mice taking a chemotherapy drug. One group had a high fiber diet, while the other did not. Through testing feces and analyzing neuroinflammation, the team found that the fiber group had higher levels of the bacteria Bacteroidaceae and Akkermansiaceae, as well as the fatty acid propionate. They also had reduced GFAP expression, which is linked with neuroinflammation, in a region of the hippocampus.
The researchers say their findings show that targeting the gut-brain axis may help reduce the neurological impacts of chemo.
Dr. Cross says, “We’re all about improving the lives of people living with and beyond cancer any way we can, because in addition to receiving acute treatment, patients are also often on long term chemotherapy to prevent cancer recurrence and that significantly impacts their quality of life.
“We’re optimistic that increasing fiber intake could have the potential to provide relief by improving the burden associated with all neuropsychological symptoms with one intervention.”
Other research has also linked gut imbalances with Alzheimer’s, another neurological disorder. You can read more on that here.