Nutrition for Chemo Brain

by Deb Witter

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When I approached our oncologists for what appeared to be chemo brain in my daughter, they asked a lot of questions and at the end of our conversation told me they had nothing available for her other than drugs. Since medications contributed to this problem I decided to find out for myself what could be done. Part one and part two of this article is a culmination of many months of research to find what actually worked to help my daughter with debilitating chemo brain.

Daily exercise during treatment.

Daily exercise during treatment.

Exercise (Photo of my daughter exercising during treatment.)

(This photo is my daughter during treatment. She had osteoporosis plus chemo brain due to cancer and chemo.

She has weights on her legs, in her hands and a weight belt to add resistance. I just wanted to show you that we definitely practice what we preach!)

Plasticity, or neuroplasticity, describes how experiences reorganize neural pathways in the brain. Long lasting functional changes in the brain occur when we learn new things or memorize new information. These changes in neural connections are what we call neuroplasticity. [3]

Again, exercise stimulates brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research from UCLA  demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain – making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections. [4] This is exactly what cancer survivors need, new neuronal connections!


For those of you who do not exercise or stopped exercising here is a full length article to help you get started My suggestion is start with five minutes a day every day and add another five minutes when you are ready. When exercising make whatever action you choose just it a bit difficult for yourself, where you have to take deep breaths and contract muscles. This is the only way that exercise actually works is if it is somewhat challenging. By forcing muscles to move faster than normal and breathing deeply, you are ensuring that every part of the body and particularly your brain are stimulated. The brain needs oxygen and exercise will get it there. If you stay on this simple regimen and decide to make this a life style change you will reap many rewards within a couple of months.

Use the Internet to find websites dedicated to this subject. And, the act of learning also causes increased neural activity, adding an additional brain bonus!

No pain no gain is a lie. Don’t follow that. Just start easy and challenge yourself. That’s the only secret. Next we go over brain specific supplements.


Calcium is what our nerve cells use to conduct electricity, and therefore normal calcium is necessary for our brains to function properly. Calcium serves as the electron that passes through the wiring of our brains and nerves.

Calcium is required for vascular contraction and vasodilation, muscle function, nerve transmission, intracellular signaling and hormonal secretion. [5] The signals in our brain that help thinking are electrical, calcium helps transport/carry the signals. Without calcium it makes it that much harder to think, learn, etc.

The National Institutes of Health advises recommended calcium intake and information here.

Did you know that processed foods are high in acid? (TV dinners, frozen prepared meals, fast foods, boxed premixed foods are what is know as Processed Foods, or anything that is not made from simple cooking could also be considered in the same processed category because of the many added ingredients commercially used that are not used at home.) Our bodies will try to neutralized this acid imbalance by pulling calcium from bone and flooding our blood system with it to bring down the acid content. Over time this is a disaster in the making for our long term bone health.

To stop this circular destruction is pretty easy by making it a habit to at least consume one good size raw-salad a day and two portions of raw fruit for snacks. Cutting down on sugary-wheat containing snacks is also good for bone and mental health as pasta/wheat products have been proven to have a morphine effect on the brain.

How to Increase Calcium Consumption Naturally

Contrary to modern media propaganda campaigns milk does not do a body good. Per an emergency room physician that I spoke with constipation is the number one reason for emergency room visits in children. Chemotherapy is also disastrous for digestion. It is well known that milk and milk products are binding for the digestive process. On the other hand calcium derived from plants is healthier and easier for the body to digest while also providing natural fiber to aid digestion.

It would be worth an experiment with the foods shown below to see if digestion and behavior are improved by less milk and more plant consumption.

Below is an illustration showing the plants that are naturally loaded with calcium.


Illustration courtesy of

Vitamin D3 and Cognitive Function

In a 2012 study it was found that a lack of vitamin D can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke and metabolic disorders including diabetes. Cognitive impairment and dementia must now be added to this list. Vitamin D receptors are widespread in brain tissue. Further studies have also shown associations between low D concentrations and cerebrovascular events such as large vessel infarcts, risk of cerebrovascular accident and fatal stroke. Cross-sectional studies cannot establish temporal relationships because cognitive decline and the onset of dementia itself may influence vitamin D concentrations through behavioral and dietary changes. [6]

Any patients currently on treatment should show this to your doctor and find out if you can take a standard dose of vitamin D3. If you are a survivor look into a multi-vitamin that includes vitamin D3. Print out this fact sheet for consultation with your doctor

“One of the undisputed benefits of vitamin D is that it helps you ABSORB calcium – this link has been known for many decades.” Dr. Mercola


Image courtesy of

Magnesium is a nutrient that the body needs to stay healthy. Magnesium is important for may processes in the body, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure and making protein, bone, and DNA. [7.]

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weakness. Extreme magnesium deficiency can cause numbness, tingling, muscle cramps, seizures, personality changes and abnormal heart rhythm. [6]

Don’t these symptoms sound like many common symptoms experienced during cancer treatment? Many normal people experience these symptoms in day-to-day life too…

Calcium and magnesium are dependent upon each other and are usually taken in a 2 to 1 ration. Look for supplements that have for instance 500mg Calcium to 250mg Magnesium. Some people need more magnesium than calcium, which is true for me. You would have to experiment to see what is best for you.

Another theory that has been proposed is artificial deficiency of magnesium being created because of calcium supplementation added to a vast array of food products without the needed Magnesium.

Last note: I am going to give you a video link to a life changing video. After I watched this video I investigated the authors claims and verified everything he states in the video, which made the information that much more hard hitting!


Hopefully you have learned the importance of using the trio of calcium, magnesium and D3 to improve cognitive function along with daily doses of healthy salads and fruit. Any left over effects from chemo can be improved over time using nutritional supplementation, exercise and a good diet. Consistency and time put in eventually pays back in improvement across many areas.




  1. Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D
  2. Acta Psychol (Amst). 2003 Mar;112(3):297-324. Effects of acute bouts of exercise on cognition. Tomporowski PD1.
  2. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Jun 1;101(22):8473-8. Epub 2004 May 24.

Voluntary exercise increases axonal regeneration from sensory neurons.Molteni R1, Zheng JQ, Ying Z, Gómez-Pinilla F, Twiss JL.

  1. National Institutes of Health Internet fact page
  2. Scand J Clin Lab Invest Suppl. 2012;243:79-82. doi: 10.3109/00365513.2012.681969.
Vitamin D and cognitive function. Soni M1, Kos K, Lang IA, Jones K, Melzer D, Llewellyn DJ.
  1. Magnesium Fact Sheet for Consumers National Institutes of Health


Copyright © 2018 Deb Witter