Healing Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury

The human brain is a remarkable feat of engineering.  But with the consistency of Jello, it is quite vulnerable to damage from injuries.  Every year about 200,000 Canadians suffer concussions.  Sports injuries and car accidents are two common causes of brain injuries, but for seniors, concussions are more likely to be caused by a fall.  The good news is that the brain can recover from minor concussions within a short time. But for multiple concussions or more traumatic brain injuries, the path to recovery can be long and winding.  Post-concussion syndrome can persist for years without the proper help.  Research is showing that there are many ways to enhance healing of the brain. No matter how long it’s been since the brain injury, it’s never too late to jump-start more repair of those delicate structures of the brain that run our mind and body.

Concussions are difficult to diagnose with imagine like an MRI or CT scan, and the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome can be easily attributed to other things.  I often ask my patients about concussions and sometimes find that they do indeed have symptoms of post-concussion syndrome such as:  fatigue, memory loss, cognitive issues, headache, depression, anxiety, irritability, sleep issues, sensitivity to light or sound, issues with sight or hearing, nausea, dizziness and more.

The best approach after a brain injury is to minimize the damage and promote brain healing as soon as possible.  To do that, we have to understand how the brain cells actually get damaged with brain injury.  Then we can use treatments that target those processes. Most medical professionals are not versed in strategies to address what’s really going on in concussion and brain injury, and so these processes are left to damage the brain especially in the critical first few days after concussion.  We need to institute neuroprotection strategies that promote healing, and it’s never too late to start.

Neural inflammation is a significant cause of loss of brain cells, and the connections between them, after head injury.  There are a number of natural products that help to regulate neural inflammation such as curcumin, the DHA portion of fish oil, and green tea. Aerobic exercise also has tremendous benefits to the brain.

We also want to decrease oxidative stress on the brain cells by ingesting higher amounts of anti-oxidant rich foods and medicines.  Berries are rich in antioxidants and Vitamins C and E can be helpful too.

The blood brain barrier (BBB) is intended to only allow certain things to enter the brain from the blood, but after brain injury, there can be a breach in this filtering system.  Toxins then can enter the brain and cause more damage.  Alpha lipoic acid is excellent for healing the BBB and is also an antioxidant.

Mitochondria are the furnaces of the cells, producing needed energy.  The brain cells are particularly dependent on mitochondria for energy. Brain injury can damage the mitochondria and especially lead to brain fog and fatigue.  To heal from brain injury, we need to ramp up the mitochondrial function by taking supplements such as coenzyme Q10, B vitamins as well as eating whole foods and exercising.

We want to stimulate that parts of the brain that can regenerate by enhancing neural stem cells. Humble nutrients like Vitamin D and melatonin can help accomplish these goals.

Promote the lymphatic drainage in the brain called glymphatics. Like a Zamboni clearing the effects of ice skating on an ice rink, the glymphatics of the brain clear away the normal waste products that build up in the brain daily.  This is even more important post brain injury. Sleep is the time when these mechanisms ramp up the most, so I help my concussion patients enhance their sleep.

The nerves of the brain are intimately linked to the chemistry of the digestive system.  Chemicals produced by the gut bugs, or intestinal microbiome, travel to the brain and influence mood, thinking and more.  Having a healthy digestive system will help brain function and naturopathic physicians are an excellent resource for tools to enhance gut health.

Other treatments for concussion are also getting much needed attention.

Brain training can help make new connections in the brain.

The ketogenic diet, while somewhat arduous, has been shown to help a number of brain diseases, including post-concussion syndrome.

Neurofeedback is a sort of visual gym for learning to retrain and re-pattern disrupted brain activity (and is available in Comox).

Functional Neurology practitioners can help target the part of the brain that is malfunctioning and provide specific stimulation to heal those parts.

Cold laser therapy to the skull has demonstrated benefits to many patients at a Toronto clinic and human clinical trials are underway.  This painless treatment has been shown in animal studies to enhance brain healing after traumatic brain injury.  I have treated over 1000 people for various health issues with laser therapy as it helps to gently but quickly regenerate damaged tissue throughout the body.

Reducing electromagnetic fields that may not affect people with healthy brains, but may be one more stress on an injured brain. Turning off wireless at night and removing cordless phones from the bedroom are a good way to start.

There is hope.  No matter how far out from a brain injury, there is always reason for hope.  With the right treatment, people can improve significantly even years after a brain injury if they are willing to invest in their brain health.

To learn more about how this type of multifaceted approach might be able to help you, contact naturopathic physician Dr. Deidre Macdonald, ND at 250 897-0235 or via getwellhere.com

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