An injured brain should not be without the necessary nutrients for healing and anti-inflammation for even a few minutes. The body and brain have an immense ability to compensate, but if the appropriate nutrients aren’t immediately available, recovery can be incomplete or disrupted with long-term effects. In other words, if you don’t have what you need, you may experience imperfect repair, analogous to a scar, but in the brain. In this blog, we will be talking about how you can prevent insufficient repair and reduce recovery time with a combination of nutritional supplements.
What Is a Concussion and What Does It Do to The Brain?
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a hit to the head or body. The impact is so forceful that it causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull. Symptoms include headache, brain fog, dizziness, ringing in the ears, nausea or vomiting, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, sleep issues, and fatigue. These side effects can last anywhere between several days to several months.
Injury from a concussion can disrupt any number of neural relay pathways. When a neural relay pathway heals, it either heals perfectly, less than perfect or in a very disordered fashion. When those pathways heal, we want to limit or even prevent a “scar” from forming in them. Multiple factors influence scarring, including genetic predisposition, nutrient status, degree of secondary inflammation, rapid clearance of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and local vascular response to injury.
Concussion & Nutrition
Scientists believe that among the many different changes that occur throughout the brain and body after a concussion are changes in nutritional status. It is thought that nutritional deficiencies may worsen concussion symptoms and prolong recovery. You see, following a concussion, blood flow slows down on its way towards the brain, forcing the brain into an “energy crisis.” During this crisis, the brain demands an increase in energy supply. The only way to do that is to supplement the body with the proper nutrients to create viable energy that the body can use to heal itself. That is why many people have started to turn towards nutritional supplements to aid in their recovery from concussion and TBI. When interviewed by UPMC Health Beat, Dr. Sufrinko, a clinical neuropsychologist, said, “while there is little research supporting the use of supplements, there are also very few risks or side effects when taken at low dosages.” This fact alone leaves many people open to the possibility that nutritional supplements can help reduce recovery time and ease symptoms of concussion and other TBIs.
Two human-based studies using creatine supplementation in children who sustained a moderate to severe TBI showed that the children who took creatine had significantly improved cognition, communication, self-care, personality, and behavior. They also experienced decreased headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
High doses of creatine can cause cramps, diarrhea, nausea, dizziness, high blood pressure, liver, and kidney problems. An appropriate protocol includes a short (3-7 days) “loading phase” with high-dose creatine (15-20g/day split into 2-3 doses) and a longer duration “maintenance phase” of 1-3 months (3-10g/day split into 2-3 doses). One can avoid any risks associated with creatine use by maintaining good hydration and dividing the dose into multiple increments.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, have shown some promise in the treatment and prevention of concussion. DHA is vital during pregnancy and early childhood for brain development. It can also prevent inflammation. In other words, supplementation of DHA may reduce biological markers of brain injury, protect against oxidative stress, and decrease the amount of damage the brain sustains from a concussion.
Naturally, DHA is highly concentrated in gray matter, essential for normal neurologic development, and has roles in learning and memory. Side effects can include belching, bad breath, heartburn, nausea, and loose stools.
Vitamin B3 is necessary for the production of NAD, which is essential for cellular health and energy conversion. It also regulates some of the cells’ metabolic, stress, and immune responses to physiological or pathological signals. Low levels of NAD are associated with concussions. Side effects include flushing, nausea, and diarrhea. Very high levels of Vitamin B3 can increase liver damage and promote stomach ulcers and hypotension.
Vitamin C Supplemented with Vitamin E
Studied in humans with severe TBI, the combination of vitamin C and vitamin E showed that patients with a Glasgow Coma Scale (measures consciousness after a brain injury) score less than or equal to eight had decreased mortality. They also experienced increased Glasgow Outcome Scores if treated with vitamin E and reduced edema and lesion size if treated with vitamin C. The recommended dosage of Vitamin C for adults over the age of 19 is between 75 and 90mg/day. The recommended dosage of vitamin E for individuals over the age of 14 is 15mg/day.
Vitamin D Supplemented with Progesterone
A human-based study with those who had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury revealed that vitamin D and progesterone significantly improved Glasgow Outcome Scores, a better recovery rate, and greater efficacy in reducing neuroinflammation. While this is a step in the right direction, more information is needed on this combination’s immediate effects on concussions. Those using a combination of vitamin D and progesterone should consume 50,000 IU/week or 5,000 IU/day.
A phytochemical found in turmeric, curcumin, may improve balance and reduce swelling in the brain. Swelling of the brain after a concussion causes many of the symptoms people may experience. By reducing the swelling, you can significantly minimize much pain, dizziness, etc. We recommend that one take 500mg of turmeric a day to receive an appropriate amount of curcumin.
A human study on 80 soldiers who suffered mild TBIs showed that more soldiers were symptom-free at seven days than those who took the placebo. The studying dose was 4g of N-acetyl cysteine daily (2g morning and night) for four days, then 3g (1.5g morning and night) for three days. The best results occurred when treatment was initiated within 24 hours of the injury occurring. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. N-acetyl cysteine has significant interaction with nitroglycerine, which causes low blood pressure.
Using Nutrition to Treat Concussion Symptoms
To recap, nutrition plays a vital role in concussion treatment. Overall, we recommend that you maintain healthy vitamin levels and provide your body with enough energy and inflammation-reducing supplements to help reduce healing time and the long-term effects that the concussion may have on your brain. While there is still a lot of research that needs to be done to confirm the benefits of many supplements on concussion treatment, there is a lot of evidence to suggest significant benefits to maintaining a healthy diet to prevent and heal concussions.
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