The brain serves as the command center of the human body, managing the nervous system, sending signals to the body’s muscles, and receiving messages from the body’s sensory organs. (1) The brain’s white matter (the axons and dendrites of the nerve fibers) acts as the subway system of the brain, connecting different regions of grey matter and carrying nerve impulses between neurons.
Concussions are traumatic brain injuries caused by any sufficiently hard blow to the head. (2) The rapid movement of the brain can cause the neurons to tear and brain tissues to change shape, which can damage the brain cells.
Continue reading to learn about the different nutrients and supplements that may help individuals recover from a concussion.
Did you know?
Concussions can also cause changes to the metabolic and chemical makeup of the brain, which can affect the cells’ ability to communicate and even to function normally. This can lead to apoptosis (cell death), mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, and ultimately, cognitive impairment. (10)
While concussions can cause immediate symptoms, such as a temporary loss of consciousness, headaches, and dizziness, some effects can continue days or even weeks after the event. This is called post-concussive syndrome, and its signs and symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
- Decreased sense of taste and smell (rare)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss
- Sensitivity to light and noise (4)
Concussion management with diet and supplements
The brain is highly dependent on nutrients and energy. It is also extremely vulnerable to toxins and stress. A brain injury can disrupt the brain-gut connection, a bidirectional communication network between the brain and gastrointestinal system, potentially resulting in increased intestinal permeability, inflammation, reduced gastrointestinal motility, and bacterial overgrowth. (38) The following nutrients and dietary supplements have been shown to support brain health and may also contribute to brain injury recovery and reduce pain associated with concussions.
Did you know?
These two primary goals for post-concussion nutrition—healing the structural damage from the concussion while managing the pain to prevent long-term damage—can be achieved through natural remedies, including dietary supplements.
Creatine, an amino acid best known for its muscle performance benefits, may offer some neuroprotective benefits as well. (3) It maintains the health of the mitochondria in the brain and improves the brain’s blood flow, addressing both the concussion’s short- and long-term effects. Creatine gives the brain an immediate boost of energy that it needs to heal its cells and is especially known to improve post-concussion amnesia. (3) Creatine can be found in foods such as seafood, red meat, and chicken. (13)
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as fish, nuts (e.g., walnuts), vegetable oils, leafy vegetables, flax seeds, and flaxseed oil, (25) support cell membrane health and act as a neuroprotective agent. They improve the integrity of the brain’s white matter and increase the volume of grey matter in the frontal, temporal, parietal, and limbic areas of the brain, improving brain structure and function, especially in older adults. (35) Omega-3s also increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein related to nerve growth. (35)
DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is an integral part of the structure of the brain, especially the cerebral cortex. According to some animal studies, TBIs can reduce DHA in the brain, resulting in slower recovery following an injury. (11) Supplementing DHA, specifically, may reduce axonal and neuronal damage, apoptosis, oxidative stress, cognitive impairment, and neurotransmitter decline. (28)
Resveratrol is an antioxidant plant compound that can be found in grapes, berries, red wine, and peanuts. (5) It increases blood flow in the brain, improves cognitive function, and reduces inflammation and post-traumatic neuronal loss. (6)(9)(17)
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) is an herbal extract commonly used in traditional Asian and African medicine. (31) According to one study, boswellia may be particularly beneficial for concussion patients who have a diffuse axonal injury (DAI), a type of traumatic brain injury resulting from a blunt injury to the head. Boswellia was shown to encourage neurorecovery by enhancing cognitive function. (21)
Curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, is known for its vibrant yellow color and is commonly used in Indian cuisine. (2) Curcumin can improve cognitive function, boost BDNF, increase blood flow to the brain, and modulate the release of serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters responsible for mood regulation. (14)(30) It also supports the inflammation pathways to the brain and may reduce oxidative damage to the brain following an injury. (8)(37)
Did you know?
Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant that supports cognitive processes, enhances the naturally available DHA in the brain, protects the brain from neurodegeneration, and helps regenerate brain stem cells. (36)
Choline, an essential nutrient that can be found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, helps protect and repair damaged brain cells. (12)(22) In one study, oral cytidine diphosphate-choline (CDP-choline), a naturally-occuring form of choline, was shown to be more effective than a placebo in reducing postconcussional symptoms in patients recovering from a mild to moderate closed-head injury. (16)
Vitamin D helps maintain neuron integrity, possesses anti-inflammatory effects, and supports brain cell survival. (19) Vitamin D can be found in foods, such as fish, fortified dairy and grain products, and egg yolks, but can also be synthesized by the skin through exposure to sunlight. (26)
Zinc decreases oxidative stress and increases wound healing. (18) It also increases the brain’s resilience to traumatic brain injury. Zinc can be found in poultry, fish, and red meat. (23)
Acetyl L-carnitine energizes the brain, increases the neurotransmitter levels needed for memory, focus, and learning, repairs damage to brain cells, and relieves depression. (15)(24) It’s naturally produced by the human body, but it’s also often taken as a supplement to increase its effects.
Magnesium, especially magnesium L-threonate, can significantly enhance the density and plasticity of synapses as well as prevent memory decline. Magnesium plays a critical role in learning and memory by increasing the durability of synapses and enabling the brain to make new connections. (32) Dietary sources of magnesium include spinach, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes. (24)
Alpha-lipoic acid lowers oxidative stress at the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and is a good source of antioxidants. (29) According to one animal trial, alpha-lipoic acid’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties helped reduce edema and preserve BBB permeability following a brain injury. (33) Research has demonstrated that alpha-lipoic acid It can be found in foods such as yeast, kidneys, liver, spinach, potatoes, and broccoli. (27)
The bottom line
Eating the right foods and taking the right supplements can help improve recovery time and may also limit the damage caused by concussions. If you’re a patient, consult your integrative healthcare practitioner for guidance and an appropriate treatment plan.
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