Addressing The Metabolic Aspects of Concussions With Nutrition And Natural Compounds

  Dr. Paul Hrkal, Naturopathic Doctor

Dr. Paul Hrkal, Naturopathic Doctor

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and concussions are generating greater medical and research interest as public awareness grows, especially in the impact on younger and more vulnerable populations. An explosion of recent research has uncovered some of the underlying pathways involved in TBI and concussions. While one complete theory has yet to be confirmed, there is emerging science that brain trauma causes neurotransmitter and calcium release which initiates a viscous cycle of excitotoxin production, impaired energy production, neuro-inflammation and immune activation. 

People that have a concussion undergo a very brief period (minutes to hours) of increased energy production as brain cells try to restore balance followed by a period of reduced brain function, as the ability of brain cells to produce energy is greatly impaired. This state can last 7 days or longer (30 days in severe cases) depending on the severity of the injury. While in this “impaired” state, the risk of a concussion appears to increase when the brain has suffered a prior concussive injury and has not yet fully healed. 

Unfortunately, at this time there are no neuro-protective treatment options that exist to improve symptoms after a TBI or post concussive syndrome. Drug and pharmaceutical approaches have shown limited benefits and currently are not recommended as a treatment. Now many scientists are starting to study a wide range of natural compounds and vitamins that have promising broad-spectrum, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory activity. Curcumin, green tea, essential fatty acids, resveratrol, and vitamin E are some of the compounds with potential therapeutic benefit. 

Considering the large number of changes that occur after a brain injury a potential solution also needs be able to have a broad spectrum of therapeutic action. Unfortunately drugs can be very effective but are inadequate in TBI since they usually address one very specific factor. This is where nutrition and natural substances can be a very powerful tool to speed up injury recovery and promote healing. The foods that you eat can powerfully reduce the amount of overall inflammation in you have in your body. Specific evidence based natural supplements can also address a wide range of targets including mitochondrial function and neuro-inflammation. Additionally this approach can also improve the ability of your brain to heal during and after a concussion if employed as a preventative strategy. If you are looking to improve your overall brain resilience or want address the chronic effects of a brain injury consider enhancing your brain metabolism with nutrition and natural supplementation. 

Key definitions:

Neurotransmitter: A signaling molecule found in the brain (i.e glutamate)

Mitochondria: The part of each cell that is responsible for energy production. They are essential in order for a cell to survive.  

Calcium release: Calcium is a mineral that plays a key role in nerve function. Excessive calcium release after a concussion can damage the ability of a nerve cell to produce energy. 

Excitotoxin production: excitotoxins are signaling molecules produced in the brain after trauma. They disrupt normal brain function by excessively stimulating nerve activity. 

Impaired energy production: Excessive calcium and excitotoxin production damage the mitochondria in brain cells which in turn impairs their ability to produce energy. Without energy brain cell function slows and eventually can stop. This the mechanism behind many post-concussion related symptoms. 

Neuro-inflammation: inflammation is produced to stimulate healing in the short term but can be very damaging when it continually in produced without being resolved. 

Immune activation: Specialized immune cells in the brain called microglia are turned on after a brain injury. Once fully activated they can produce inflammation. 

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References

Giza CC, Difiori JP. Pathophysiology of sports-related concussion: an update on basic science and translational research. Sports Health. 2011 Jan;3(1):46-51

Maroon JC, Lepere DB, Blaylock RL, Bost JW. Postconcussion syndrome: a review of pathophysiology and potential nonpharmacological approaches to treatment. Phys Sportsmed. 2012 Nov;40(4):73-87