Nutrition and concussions: Potential new directions for optimizing recovery
The increasing number of young athletes suffering from concussions has become an area of significant focus in the medical community. Prevention of these injuries by altering athletic participation of children in high risk sports is becoming more of a common place discussion. Proper evaluation and treatment helps to ensure optimal outcomes for a healthy recovery. Nutritional strategies to support recovery are still in early stages of research but there has been some promising new information coming out. Dietitians working with post concussive patients will most often focus on fueling in the setting of nausea and/or dizziness. Alterations in sleep cycles can also have a negative effect on appetite leading to under or overeating. Overall, the nutrition role thus far has been to ensure that an athlete is maintaining a healthy weight while recovering from injury.
There has been some early research on the potential benefits of both Vitamin D and Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (n-3FA) supplementation post traumatic brain injury. Vitamin D has been shown to have a neuro protective role, therefore potentially improving recovery outcomes. However, the research has been very limited and in its initial stages. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient and plays a role in bone development and calcium absorption; therefore, supplementation of 500- 1000 IUs daily is recommended as part of a healthy diet. In the warmer months, sun exposure of around 15 minutes daily can boost Vitamin D levels!
The research on Omega-3 supplementation in post concussive patients has proven to be much more promising and is being implemented in some clinical and athletic settings. N-3FAs play an important role in neurodevelopment and function by providing a structural component of cell membranes; particularly those concentrated in the brain. They are also noted for their powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Since the body is not able to synthesize these fatty acids they are considered essential and must be consumed in the diet. Omega 3 can be supplemented in the diet pre-injury, as well, and should especially be considered for athletes in high-risk concussion sports such as football and soccer. Post-concussion or traumatic brain injury “super doses” slowly tapered down have shown the most benefit. Omega 3 fatty acids can be taken as a supplement or found in the diet in foods including salmon, walnuts, ground flax seed, and chia seeds.
Pairing Omega 3 supplements with medical recommendations from your Physician may help improve your prognosis and recovery time. Omega 3 FA and Vitamin D remain an important part of a balanced diet. Therefore, it is not necessary to wait for an injury to begin including them in your daily routine. Please be sure to consult with a Physician or Registered Dietitian before consumption of high doses of supplements to ensure there are no potential negative interactions.
If you are interested in learning more or scheduling an evaluation with our Registered Dietitian, please call 617-355-3501.
References: Lawrence DW, Sharma B. A review of the neuroprotective role of vitamin D in traumatic brain injury with implications for supplementation post-concussion. Brain 2016;30(8):960-8. doi: 10.3109/02699052.2016.1147081. Epub 2016 May 16. Lewis MD. Concussions, Traumatic Brain Injury, and the Innovative Use of Omega-3s. J Am Coll Nutr.2016 Jul;35(5):469-75. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2016.1150796.