By Cristina Rivera, Certified Sports Nutritionist
Inflammation from traumatic brain injury (TBI) following a concussion causes damage to neurons and synapses in the brain, leading to both immediate and long term consequences. The immediate goals of dietary intervention include reducing inflammation, providing protection from oxidative stress, reducing free radical production, and providing key nutrients to aid in the healing and recovery of neuronal and mitochondrial function. Below is a list of macro and micro nutrients that play a critical role in the treatment of concussive injury.
* Glucose is the brain’s sole fuel source and is the only macronutrient that can cross the blood-brain barrier.
* Following a TBI calorie needs can go up as much as 15-20% to aid in recovery. This increase should be in carbohydrates to give the brain energy for healing and repair.
* Carbohydrates should be complex and whole grain, as refined carbohydrates and sugar can worsen inflammation, thus delaying the healing process.
* Good sources include whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, quinoa, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
* Omega-3, specifically DHA, decreases inflammation and reduces oxidative stress in the brain following concussive injury (CI).
* Being that the process of inflammation releases neurotoxic substances, omega-3 will decrease damage to synapses and neurons following CI.
* DHA has been shown to improve the plasticity and recovery of neurons in the brain.
* Be sure to avoid saturated and trans-fats (fried foods, baked goods, palm and coconut oil), as these are pro-inflammatory.
* Good sources include salmon, tuna, almonds, walnuts, flaxseed, as well as DHA supplements
3. Vitamins C & E
* These powerful antioxidants decrease free radical production, lipid peroxidation, and oxidative stress.
* Vitamin E has been shown to reduce levels high levels of damaging
Glutamate that is secreted following TBI.
* High doses of Vitamin C slow the progression of perilesional edema in the brain.
* Both Vitamin E and C can aid in repair of the myelin sheath, which is responsible for conducting and sending impulses from the brain to other parts of the body.
* Good sources of Vitamin E include olive oil, avocado, peanut butter, spinach, wheat germ oil, almonds, and walnuts
* Good sources of Vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, blueberries, papaya, and strawberries.
* This powerful antioxidant found in tumeric and curry spices has been shown to decrease memory deficits associated with brain trauma.
* Curcumin can increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a protein that supports the survival of existing neurons and aids in the growth of new synapses.
* Good sources include: tumeric, curry powder, yellow mustard
When implemented immediately following trauma, dietary intervention can speed up recovery as well as decrease long term effects of CI. Athletes should always consult a specialist in sports dietetics (CSSD) to ensure adequate nutrient intake following an injury.