Brain injuries have become a hot topic, both in the news and in Hollywood. The upcoming movie “Concussion,” which appears in theaters on Christmas Day, takes a look at the research on brain damage in professional football players. And the media’s coverage on the link between sports and brain injuries has highlighted the gaps in knowledge that exist when it comes to treatment.
How widespread is the problem of concussions and other brain injuries? In what new ways are medical professionals identifying and treating them? The answers may surprise you.
What is a Concussion?
According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM), a concussion is a traumatically induced transient disturbance of brain function. It’s a mild subset of traumatic brain injury, which is generally self-limited and at the less severe end of the brain injury spectrum.
A Widespread Problem
The AMSSM estimates that around 3.8 million concussions occur in the U.S. per year, and that it’s possible that up to 50 percent of concussions go unreported. Concussions aren’t injuries exclusively reserved for professional athletes. In fact, they are becoming increasingly more common not only in football, but also in sports like hockey, rugby, soccer and basketball. Concussions are also occurring more frequently among youth: reported rates in U.S. high-school athletes more than doubled between 2005 and 2012.
Nutrition Therapy for Concussions
Currently, treatment for concussions is limited to rest, allowing the brain time to recover. But there’s growing evidence that consuming certain nutrients such as vitamin D and omega-3s may support injured brains as part of a treatment protocol, reduce acute effects and promote recovery. Current research supports the integration of a dietitian into the team of health professionals treating concussions. This is welcome news, since nutrition allows a non-invasive way to provide both intervention and metabolic support during recovery. Check out a recent blog post by Marie Spano, RD, for more information about nutrition therapy for concussions.
Omega-3’s Role in Brain Function
Considering that omega-3s EPA and DHA are two building blocks of the brain, it makes sense they may be supportive in traumatic brain injury therapy. Specifically, DHA increases fluidity of cell membranes and reduces inflammation throughout the body. The goal of their use in nutrition therapy for concussions is multi-faceted.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that omega-3s may help people who’ve suffered from concussions and other brain injuries. For example, the family of a young man named Bobby Ghassemi credits his recovery from a devastating car accident partly to fish oil. His treatment was inspired by a previous case in which omega-3s were used to help in the recovery of Randal McCloy, the sole survivor of a West Virginia mining disaster.
Omega-3s as Part of a Recovery Plan
The FDA hasn’t approved any pharmacological treatments for concussions, so dealing with a brain injury of this nature usually entails what essentially amounts to bedrest. Nutrition is a simple, sensible addition to rest.
If you, or someone in your family, suffer from a concussion, ask your doctor about using omega-3s as part of a recovery regime, and consider including a dietitian on your team of medical practitioners. Dietitians can offer advice on combining certain nutrients to support recovery. Medical evaluation and treatment is important, but nutrition therapy is a potentially valuable, yet often overlooked part of the recovery plan.
Your doctor can also share information on omega-3 benefits for healthy individuals. Even if you don’t have a brain injury, if you don’t eat fatty fish at least twice per week, taking a daily high-quality omega-3 supplement will help support brain and heart health.
Increasing Your Omega-3 Intake
More than 75 percent of Americans do not have healthy omega-3 levels, and, unlike other nutrients, our bodies cannot efficiently produce EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, but there are easy changes we can make to ensure we’re getting recommended amounts. We can do this by consuming at least two servings of omega-3-rich fish per week, or by taking a high-quality fish or krill oil supplement. It’s important to note that only a few fatty fish varieties – like salmon, tuna, sardine and herring – represent the fish that are good sources of DHA and EPA. Additionally, you can consider adding omega-3 fortified foods and beverages to your shopping list.
This is a “sponsored post,” meaning the company who sponsored the article compensated me for writing the article. The opinions I have expressed, however, are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”