Nutrient Approaches for the Treatment of Concussions

By Dr. Caleb Ng, ND

Treatment advice for people that have suffered a concussion has not changed much in over 30 years. The advice that is given today to people who have sustained a concussion is the same as it was then: rest. Although physical and cognitive rest is essential to recovery immediately following a concussion people often ask “Is there anything else that can be done to speed up recovery or help with symptoms like headaches or confusion?” In the past decade we have made some exciting discoveries about concussions, how they happen and what we can do about them. In addition to rest and rehabilitation, we have discovered there are anti-oxidants, nutrients and medicines that can facilitate faster recovery and maximize restoration of normal brain function.

Recently researchers have discovered that even mild traumatic brain injuries can cause the formation of tiny holes in the protective barrier that surrounds our brains. It was also discovered that free-radicals that are created after a concussion and can continue to damage and destroy brain cells for hours and even days  after the initial injury further complicating the matter. Combining these two facts about the development of traumatic brain injuries has lead to a possible treatment option for a faster recovery. These same researchers found that  administering a potent antioxidant, called glutathione, to mice after they had sustained concussions could reduce the amount of brain cell death by up to 67%. It appears that this potent anti-oxidant was able to access the brain through those very holes and neutralize the free radicals causing the damage.

In the last 200, 000 years when early humans developed larger brains from their Neanderthal predecessors, a diet richer in fish was considered to be a major factor. This makes sense  given that  DHA, an omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) from fish is a large contributor to brain growth and is now added to pediatric formulas and other kid’s foods for nutritional support of neuronal growth of the higher thinking centers of the brain.  There have been many cases of veterans with post-concussion syndrome that have benefited from taking high doses of DHA omega-3 EFA and currently the US Defence Department is conducting a $10M study to determine how well DHA supplementation can treat post-concussion syndrome symptoms like suicide in veterans with traumatic brain injuries.

Another nutrient that is showing promise in the treatment of traumatic brain injuries is something called glycerophosphocholine or GPC for short. GPC contributes to the development and maintenance of a fluid and functional lipid bilayer or “skin” of a brain cell. This is important because this is where a cell communicates with the outside environment or other cells. In the brain this helps with the movement of information from one area to another. Although found in red meats and organ tissues, a supplemental form created from eggs or soy appears for have most of the documented benefit. In one study injectable GPC therapy was used on a group of 23 patients that had suffered severe traumatic brain injuries with over half of them experiencing bleeding into the brain. Within 3 months, 22 of the 23 patients experienced a significant response and 14 of the 23 almost had full recovery.

In discovering how the brain heals itself after an injury neuroscience researchers have learned how important certain growth factors are for healing. One particular growth factor called BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) has been found to be critical for healing of the brain as it regulates neuron growth and survival, differentiation, and the physical restructuring of brain cells after a concussion. Although BDNF research is focusing on stimulation through pharmaceutical medications, an extract of Lion’s Mane mushroom was found to have superior nerve growth stimulation. In a study of 30 alzheimer dementia patients, this mushroom extract was found to reverse cognitive impairment compared to the placebo group. The treated group showed improvement in memory, time and place orientation, and simple math questions.

Neuroscience has also discovered how the concept of neuroplasticity or “brain remodelling” can help with the treatment of traumatic brain injuries. Along with structural nutrients like DHA and GPC, specific amino acids like 5-HTP and L-dopa can be used to reinforce and facilitate new neural connections which is how the brain heals. Using amino acids in a specific manner that optimizes neuronal communication in the brain can help reverse symptoms of post-concussion syndrome such as headaches, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and even confusion with or without prescription medication. Supporting this process with these nutrients solidifies these new connections allowing an individual to “exercise” their brain and increase their rate of recovery without as much frustration or exhaustion.

With the many discoveries that we are making about concussions and neuroscience, many treatment options are opening up to help with recovery. With mounting evidence that nutrients can play a significant role in traumatic brain injury management and recovery, people that have suffered a concussion no longer have to rely on just rest for recovery, but can take a more active role. As we discover more about how to heal the brain we get closer and closer to making complete recovery from concussions and traumatic brain injuries attainable for everyone.

Dr. Caleb Ng is currently accepting new patients. To book an appointment call 604.538.8837.