Following a concussion, numerous pathophysiological abnormalities occur in the brain.
● The Permeability of neuronal membranes are affected, disrupting their ability to send and receive signals, and disturbing the overall connectivity of the brain.
● The Demand for glucose increases as neurons try to repair themselves, but cerebral blood flow becomes reduced, leading to an energy crisis.
This energy crisis can be overcome by following basic non-invasive approaches i.e. appropriate diet and physical activity.
While physical rest has been the cornerstone of concussion management for a long time, more recently the concept of cognitive rest has been widely accepted while allowing for some form of physical activity which is mostly in the form of aerobic exercises. Additionally, it is also suggested that an appropriate balance between physical activity and proper diet will promote healing of the brain which in turn will improve connectivity and function.
The rationale for cognitive rest is the same as that for physical exertion; cognitive exertion, such as studying or playing video games, causes the energy demands of the brain to increase. The brain however needs all the energy it can get to recover its normal metabolic and neurotransmission functions.
A recent study showed that concussed patients who engaged in high levels of cognitive activity took significantly longer to resolve their symptoms. This is also because environmental conditions and experiences encountered in the daily routine of individuals can dramatically affect the capacity of the brain to react to challenges.
When deciding on a diet plan following a head injury, the main goal is to promote healing. In medical terminology, this healing is promoted through the increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF, being a neurotransmitter modulator, has been observed to play an important role in protecting neurons from insult and disease as well as modulating synaptic transmission. Additionally, it also participates in neuronal plasticity which is essential for learning and memory.
As per studies conducted to better understand the diet following a concussion, a few indicate that select diets and cardiovascular exercise modulate levels of BDNF, thus affecting normal brain function and recovery events following brain insults.
Even under normal circumstances, our brain relies on a number of nutrients including vitamins, minerals to name a few for optimal functioning and balance. However, in case of a head injury, it is critical to understand,
WHAT FOOD PROMOTES INCREASED LEVELS OF BDNF?
OMEGA-3 Fatty acids.
Food rich in this particular nutrient include,
- Fish, such as Salmon, Mackerel, Herring or Sardines
- Cod liver oil
- Chia seeds
- Soy Bean.
One of the key elements of Omega-3 fatty acids is Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
According to recent studies, it has been proven that DHA is a key component of neuronal membranes at synaptic junctions, thus aiding with synaptic transmissions and signaling and improving brain function.
Vitamins: Though mostly all vitamins are essential for normal body and brain functioning, it is important to get the right balance and not overload yourself with too many supplemental vitamins.
In my opinion, Vitamin E is crucial for brain recovery and healing as it plays an important role as an antioxidant and in reducing free radicals in the brain.
What are free radicles?
A concussive injury results in a higher production of what are called free radicals in the brain. These are highly reactive molecules that damage surrounding proteins, lipids (like those that make up cell membranes), and even DNA. These cause inflammation in the brain, one of the reasons associated with headaches. Hence, keeping them at low levels is key for recovery.
Free radicals are a normal bi-product of cell metabolism, and cells have built in anti-oxidant mechanisms to deal with them.
Sources of Vitamin E:
Mostly Oils and nuts are the primary source.
Oils : Sunflower oil , Hazelnut oil , Almond oil, Wheat germ oil
Nuts and other sources: Pecan, sunflower seeds, almonds, Hazelnut, Pine nuts, Peanuts, Brazil nuts
Curcumin: Recent studies published showed curcumin improved memory and cognition in older adults.
It shares the same antioxidant properties as Vit E as well as inhibiting free radicals, particulary nitric-oxide.
This in turn helped with reducing inflammation and promoting healing of neuronal membrane and other structures. Other food items with similar anti-inflammatory properties include yarrow and ginger.
Caffeine: Contradictory ideas about the intake of caffeine currently exist and not much research has been done to prove whether or not it is beneficial towards recovery.
Keeping in mind the energy crisis, Caffeine might, in some cases lead to over stimulation and cognitive exertion.
Some researches however do believe that it protects the brain against injury by promoting glutamate release, an excitatory neurotransmitter responsible for memory and learning.
Some other anti-inflammatory rich sources of food include kale, cranberries, blueberries to name a few.
What is very critical during this recovery period is your caloric intake.
Studies have shown that reduced caloric intake helped increase the levels of BDNF, thus aiding in faster recovery. Besides, frequency of food consumption and caloric intake also affected cognition and plasticity of the brain. Most important thing to avoid here is Saturated fats. Saturated fats have shown to decrease the levels of BDNF in the brain and hence should be avoided or consumed in minimal quantities.
Food rich in saturated fats include, but not limited to,
- poultry with skin,
- beef fat (tallow),
- lard and cream,
Lean protein without skin, certain fruits and vegetables are good alternatives to replace poly saturated fats with monosaturated fats to optimize your caloric intake.
Studies suggest that not all forms of exercise show the same effects on brain cognition and synaptic plasticity. It has been concluded that cardiovascular activity similar to running or walking is most closely tied to neuronal regeneration.
All in all, a combination of diet and exercise has been proven to promote faster recovery of the brain and combat the psychological effects resulting from the injury itself such as depression, anxiety and fatigue to name a few.