Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI’s)
Injuries like concussions and TBI’s have seen a growing awareness in recent years. From the NFL instituting stricter diagnosis and recovery protocols, to the military identifying combat soldiers with them, to the movie Concussion starring Will Smith, to every parent worrying when their child steps on the field; head traumas have taken a front seat in society today.
The most common causes of head traumas are falls (40.5%), unintentionally being struck in the head, like in sports (15.5%), motor vehicle accidents (14.3%), assault (10.7%), and unknown/other (19%). Interestingly, females seem to be much more vulnerable to these injuries than men, female athletes especially. The CDC reports that out of the 3.5 to 4 million concussions that happen every year nearly 2 million are children who are 19 years of age or younger who suffered their injury while participating in a sport or some other form of recreational activity.
As disturbing as those numbers are what is even more disturbing is that many of those concussions go undiagnosed and untreated and even if they were diagnosed and treated there is much to be desired in modern medical treatment for concussions. It is important to recognize the symptoms of a concussion right after a head injury happens. These are:
- The person can’t recall events prior to or after the injury.
- The person appears dazed, stunned, or confused.
- The person moves clumsily or is unable to maintain their balance.
- The person repeats questions or answers questions slowly.
- The person looses consciousness, even for a moment.
- The person shows, mood, behavior, or personality changes.
These are important identifiers. However, sometimes these are not present but a concussion has still occurred and symptoms show up later. Longer term signs and symptoms of concussion can be put into 4 categories.
- Thinking/Remembering: difficulty thinking clearly, feeling slowed down, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering new information
- Physical: headache, fuzzy or blurry vision, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to noise or light, balance problems, having no energy
- Emotional/Mood: irritability, sadness, more emotional than usual, nervousness or anxiety
- Sleep: sleeping more than usual, sleeping less than usual, trouble falling asleep
Unfortunately, once these signs and symptoms are identified and concussion is diagnosed the usual treatment is less than adequate. In his book When Brains Collide Dr. Michael Lewis, a concussion expert, says that:
The standard treatment, according to the CDC, is to rest, take it slow, and talk to your health-care provider. Patients and parents are encouraged to provide cognitive and physical rest, meaning no physical exertion and no screen time, no computers, no television, and no electronics for up to two weeks. They want patients to go sit in a dark room for fourteen days. You can imagine telling your teenage son or daughter this delightful news. And there are no nutritional guidelines at all, whether from the CDC or NIH or any government agency out there. There is literally no discussion about nutrition and how nutrition could help recovery from concussion.
I have had many patients affected by concussions and/or traumatic brain injuries. My patients and those who know me know that I have a huge passion for nutrition and how the right nutrition can support the body in it healing process. So when I came across the work of Dr. Lewis I was very excited. Dr. Lewis has been helping people recover from these injuries for years by using high doses of fish oil. He has developed his Omega 3 Protocol in the prevention and treatment of head injuries. The most important parts of his protocol are the dosage and the source of the fish oil.
As always, when implementing strategies such as these it is always wise to consult with a knowledgeable health care provider, preferably one open to new ideas. As far as dosage goes, Dr. Lewis recommends 3,000 milligrams 3x/days as soon as possible after suffering a head injury. This is to be done until symptoms subside and then reduced to 3,000 milligrams 2x/day for two weeks. His recommendation to maintain the results and prevent future concussions is 3,000 milligrams of fish oil per day.
Not all fish oil supplements are created equal either, so don’t just run out to the nearest store and pick up whatever is on the shelf. Some good recommendations for picking a good fish oil are:
- Good product will tell you what fish the source of the product is from. Good sources are small fish like mackerel and sardines which have less bioaccumulation of toxins and heavy metals.
- Good products will have on the label that it is molecularly distilled to clean out as many toxins as possible.
- Good products should provide 500-600 milligrams of EPA+DHA per 1,000 milligram capsule.
- Great products will tell you that the product is in triglyceride form, if the product is not in this form it won’t say anything and you can assume it isn’t. Being in this form will allow for greater absorption and decrease the possibility of GI upset.
- Remember to check the label for serving size and amount per serving so you can be sure to take enough for the desired dose.
In the end, being more aware of activities in which head injuries are more likely to happen and being more aware of the signs and symptoms are useless unless we have an action plan to help the body heal. Dr. Lewis and his colleagues are doing great work to bring about new strategies to combat concussions and TBI’s. I can tell you first hand that me, my colleagues, and especially my patients are grateful for all that he has done. To find out more about concussions and the latest research from Dr. Lewis you can visit www.brainhealtheducation.org.