Nutrition and Enhanced Concussion Recovery

For parents of young athletes, one of the most painful things can be watching your child recover from an injury. Not only will your athlete potentially lose playing time, but the question always comes to mind: Will he or she ever fully recover?

The healing process can be a very frustrating experience for the ath- lete and his or her whole family. This can be particularly true when going through the common protocol for concussion recovery, where often the only thing recommended for the injury is to watch, wait and track improvement with cognitive tests. It’s natural to want to take action, have more control of the situation and do more than just wait.

Sadly, mild traumatic brain injuries, which can have the potential to make dramatic changes to anyone’s health, tend to lack specifics in their treat- ment protocols. What can be done at home to help recovery? For people who don’t accept resting and waiting as being proactive enough, there are additional options to pursue.

Nutrition can greatly impact our health in many ways, and there are nutrition guidelines that can be followed at home to help accelerate recovery. It is always recommended to avoid unnatural sugars; eat whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and healthy fats; as well as eat lean pro- teins to keep healthy.

For concussions, taking pharmaceutical-grade vitamins can be beneficial. Following are the top four supplements that are recommended to help recover from concussions.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
There has been a lot of research recently to show that there is a cor- relation with cognitive improvements when taking Omega 3 fatty acid sup- plements. Omega 3s are composed of a variety of fats. DHA and EPA are the fats most commonly noted and researched. These fats can help decrease brain inflammation and can help restore brain cell membranes.

The recommended dosage may be as high as 4 grams of DHA and EPA when they are combined. This is why a supplement is recommended, rather than just getting the Omega 3s naturally by eating fish. One serving of fish has only about 1 gram of DHA and EPA. Someone would have to eat a lot of fish to get the recommended intake of Omega 3s and the desired effect.

Trace Minerals
Trace minerals are commonly overlooked. We live in a society that de- monizes salt, when in reality there are many different kinds of salt. The sodium you get from your favorite junk food is not the same as sea salt or the pink Himalayan salt that has become popular. These more wholesome salts contain many different trace minerals, so it is important to include them in concussion recovery.

One mineral that has been seeing increased study lately is magnesium. Magnesium levels have been shown to decrease after a concussion, and it is suggested that taking magnesium supplements can aid in healing the brain. Magnesium dosages may vary from person to person, but generally someone recovering from concussion will want to take more than 350 mg of magnesium per day.

It is very important to consider which type of magnesium supplement is used. The most researched and most effective type of magnesium for brain health is called magnesium threonate. This type is not as common as other types of magnesium. It probably won’t be found at the local grocery store, but threonate can be found online or at some stores that specialize in vitamins.

Antioxidants
Most people have heard of antioxidants, but not everyone realizes there are different types. The main antioxidant in the brain is called glutathione, and it is there to help clean up the brain, so to speak.

After experiencing a concussion, the trauma leads to cell damage and increases reactive oxygen species in the brain. You might know these as a type of free radical. Glutathione is actually part of the brain’s immune system and taking a glutathione supplement can be beneficial.

Some researchers debate about whether glutathione can be useful as a supplement because it does not cross the blood-brain barrier easily. Some supplements are filled with ingredients to help your body construct more glutathione while other supplements actually contain glutathione that is bound to a molecule that can cross into the brain. This is called liposomal glutathione. Either of the two types of supplements seem to provide benefits, but in my view plain glutathione will not do.

Curcumin
We know that inflammation occurs during a traumatic brain injury, so trying to decrease inflammation is recommended. One of the most commonly studied natural ways to decrease inflammation, besides fish oil, is curcumin.

It is the natural active chemical that is commonly found in turmeric. Some supplements may be labeled as turmeric. The dosage that you will need will most likely be more than what is on the package. As always, consult your nutrition expert for advice.

One important aspect about cur- cumin that often gets left out is that it tends to be in an inactive form. Black pepper may be in the ingredients of the supplement because it helps activate curcumin to increase its effectiveness. If black pepper is not present in the supplement, it is necessary to eat some when taking your supplement.

TAKING CONTROL OF RECOVERY

There are probably about 100 other beneficial supplements that one can take following a concussion, but these four are backed by research and generally are easily accessible. Omega 3s, magnesium threonate, liposomal glutathione and curcumin with black pepper are a great starting point for recovery. Instead of just watching and waiting, you can take more control of recovery. Do not give up. There is always more that can be done.

If modifying nutrition is not enough, additional steps can be taken. One con- cussion recovery tool that often gets overlooked is an EEG brain scan.

EEG, short for electroencephalogram, is different from a standard MRI or CT scan because it shows you how the brain functions rather than just showing its structure. Even if damage is minor, an EEG can help identify sub- tle cognitive function impairments. Improvements or lack of improvements can be tracked with this technology throughout the recovery process.

If recuperation is not happening at a satisfactory pace, a treatment called neurofeedback has been shown to im- prove brain power. The treatment often is offered in the same places where EEGs are done. Neurofeedback is a way to train your brain to its optimal perfor- mance without medication or surgery.

These types of tests and brain training are becoming more common, but it may still be worth traveling a short distance if there is not a reputable practi- tioner in your area. There are many good providers in the Triangle.

Concussions are serious injuries. Although the most recommended proto- col is to watch and wait, you can take more control of the healing process by following a nutrition protocol and by using EEGs with neurofeedback to help track progress.

Sources

Chen X, Chen C, Fan S, et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid attenuates the inflammatory response by modulating microglia polarization through SIRT1-mediated deacetylation of the HMGB1/NF-κB pathway following experimental traumatic brain injury. J Neuroinflammation. 2018;15(1):116. Published 2018 Apr 20. doi:10.1186/s12974-018-1151-3

Oliver JM, Anzalone AJ, Turner SM. Protection Before Impact: the Potential Neuroprotective Role of Nutritional Supplementation in Sports-Related Head Trauma. Sports Med. 2018; 48(Suppl 1): 39-52.

Sinha R, Sinha I, Calcagnotto A, et al. Oral supplementation with liposomal gluta- thione elevates body stores of glutathione and markers of immune function. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017; 72(1): 105-111.

Oliver JM, Anzalone AJ, Turner SM. Protection Before Impact: the Potential Neuroprotective Role of Nutritional Supplementation in Sports-Related Head Trauma. Sports Med. 2018; 48(Suppl 1): 39-52.

Surmeli, T, Eralp, E, Mustafazade, I, Kos, IH, Elif Özer, G, & Surmeli, OH (2017). Quantitative EEG Neurometric Analysis– Guided Neurofeedback Treatment in Postconcussion Syndrome (PCS): Forty Cases. How Is Neurometric Analysis Important for the Treatment of PCS and as a Biomarker? Clinical EEG and Neuroscience, 48(3), 217–230.

About Justin Gianni 5 Articles
Dr. Justin Gianni was raised in the Triangle where he found a love for running in high school. He was fortunate enough that his passion led him to a career as a Division 1 cross-country runner at Elon University and more importantly it introduced him to the world of health and wellness. With a strong desire to pursue a profession that would allow him to be involved with those fields, he attended chiropractic school at New York Chiropractic College. After graduating he returned to the area where he was raised and currently practices at Chiropractic Nutrition Center in Cary, N.C. At this clinic he is able to work with patients who have a variety of conditions, both sport and non-sport related. While chiropractors are most commonly recognized for working with neck pain, back pain, extremity injuries and headaches, he also works with patients who want to improve their overall health. He incorporates nutrition and a variety of other strategies when putting together a patient care plan and knows that giving each person a strategy that is customized to their needs and unique situation is essential.

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