Part Two: How Natural Medicine can Help you Heal from a Concussion
In Part One of “Effects of a Concussion on the Brain: How Natural Medicine Can Help” I focused on the physical changes that occur in the brain after a concussion. To quickly recap, we now know that any concussion or hit to the head is a serious injury and needs to be treated promptly by an integrated team of professionals, including a doctor specializing in Naturopathic medicine. In Part Two I want to discuss how natural medicine is effective in treating some of the physical changes that occur in the brain after a concussion, changes that are vital to address but that conventional medicine does not have an answer for.
Besides rest and therapy, new treatments in the fields of exercise therapy, nutritional supplementation, herbs, and homeopathy show promise both in clinical trials as well as in Naturopathic practice.
There are two main ways for natural medicine to assist in the treatment of a concussion and prevention of post-concussion syndrome (a syndrome that can occur after the initial head injury is thought to have healed):
1. Ensure optimal nutritional and herbal supplementation, specific to the metabolic changes that occur.
2. Reduce inflammation.
After life-threatening complications have been ruled out, naturopathic treatment should be started immediately. Immediate treatment after a concussion may save nerves from being destroyed and significantly decreases potential for post-concussion syndrome.
Let’s start with one of the basics of treatment mentioned above, nutritional supplementation.
Important nutritional supplementation, such as magnesium, folate, and vitamin C, are essential to promote healing in the brain. More importantly, B vitamins are responsible for healthy neurotransmitter pathways in your brain and have been found to be depleted in those suffering from a concussion, thus supplementation is essential. If you are eating a well- balanced diet you may be getting some of these nutrients already. However, because of injury to the brain your body requires more nutrients than usual to recover. Those examples are just the basics of vitamins and minerals your body needs to fully recover. Because it is difficult to deliver these and other nutrients to the brain via the digestive tract some nutrients are best given by IV. IV therapy bypasses the intestinal tract and allows for the delivery of high doses of nutrients directly into the bloodstream. The most effective IV’s to deliver nutrients and to restore nerve function are Vitamin C, B-vitamins (including folate), and glutathione (1).
These supplements, especially glutathione, are important nutrients for healing because they are anti-oxidants and are easily circulated in the brain helping to prevent the damage caused by a brain injury. They promote immune function, thus activating the immune system to begin removing inflammatory cells more quickly and promoting neurotransmitter health.
To address proper nutrients and inflammation at the same time DHA and EPA (2), two omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, are some of your best choices. They are well known to reduce inflammation. Furthermore, essential fatty acids are important for proper nerve function (4). Several trials studying brain injury and concussions have found that DHA and omega-3 supplementation improves cognitive function, reduces nerve swelling, stabilizes cellular energy production, and increases nerve repair (2,4). The reasons why addressing those things are so important will be discussed below.
The diet is just as important as the supplements mentioned above to address inflammation. Be sure to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. This may not be necessary for you if you aren’t suffering from a head injury, but if you have a concussion inflammation is present in the most important part of your body. There are many foods that can cause more inflammation that generally would be healthy for you such as vegetables. To learn more see the article Vegetables that can cause inflammation. In addition to those vegetables mentioned in the article, dairy is also highly inflammatory and important to eliminate when recovering from a concussion. No alcohol and minimal sugar are also necessary guidelines to follow as they are both well-known inflammatory agents, especially when you already have underlying inflammation. There’s many more foods that cause inflammation. Speak to your Naturopathic doctor about more foods that can contribute to inflammation in your body.
The above-mentioned supplements and diet are important for the treatment of any head injury and concussion. However, immediate natural treatments go much farther than nutritional supplementation, diet, and decreasing inflammation. Addressing the physiological changes that occur after a concussion is very important and can be done via the following avenues.
One of the ways that Naturopathic doctors begin to support brain healing and specifically target the underlying changes that occur, besides just inflammation, is to make sure that the cells of the brain have the energy they need to repair themselves. When the mitochondria (cell energy producers) can’t keep up with their cell’s energy needs, they signal their cell to commit suicide (also known as apoptosis). This is why rest is so important after a head injury: to prevent your brain cells from literally dying of exhaustion while they are trying to repair themselves. Creatine (an amino acid found in muscle (3), omega-3 fatty acids (4), and curcumin (5) supplementation immediately after head injury have all been shown to help improve the energy stores of nerve cells — thereby preventing cell death and the development of post-concussion syndrome. A nice secondary effect of curcumin is that it is a strong anti-inflammatory, just as omega-3 fatty acids. Creatine specifically has been shown in humans to reduce symptoms after a concussion. Benefits were found for supplementation before and after a head injury. This is strong evidence that creatine can be used to prevent and treat neurological deficits after a concussion (3,6). Curcumin shows those same results and is very important for brain function and healing (5, 10).
The final herb that is vital to healing after a concussion is green tea. Like curcumin, green tea is an herb with incredible antioxidant activity. It has nervous system protective properties which primarily come from a molecule green tea contains called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) and the amino acid L- theanine (7). EGCG has been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the brain after an injury (8,9). One unique aspect of green tea is that the L-theanine content may offer protection from overstimulation of the brain cells which occurs immediately after a concussion (7,8,10).
These supplements only touch the surface of treatments that assist in recovery from a concussion. Another valuable avenue that most Naturopathic doctors travel is using homeopathy. Although the theory of homeopathy seems a little ‘out there’ for most, once using homeopathy for an ailment most are convinced to continue using it. An extremely valuable homeopathic remedy for a concussion is Arnica; in homeopathic form, NOT whole herb form! Make sure you always talk to your Naturopathic doctor before taking any homeopathic remedy. Dosages are not typical as it is considered an energetic form of medicine.
The Integrative Team Approach
Since treatment of a concussion should be done by a comprehensive integrative team, it’s important to mention the other realms of care, besides conventional medicine, that work well in the treatment of a concussion. The two main areas are a comprehensive neck assessment and acupuncture. A comprehensive neck assessment is always necessary since most concussion patients have not been assessed for neck and muscle issues that may be contributing to their symptoms. Muscle release, massage, acupuncture, and natural injection techniques are then used to resolve these issues after being evaluated.
Acupuncture has a powerful effect on relaxing muscles, stimulating blood flow, and promoting healing. In addition to using acupuncture to address tight neck muscles, a special technique called ‘scalp and ear acupuncture’ can have a potent effect on brain recovery by impacting the nervous system.
A smart plan for preventing post-concussion syndrome should include maintaining optimal nutritional status through diet and/or supplementation, managing the body’s overall level of inflammation, and addressing the underlying physiological changes that occur. For people at high risk for head injury, it would be wise to keep some remedies on hand for immediate treatment should an accident happen and always make sure you address your head injury immediately by seeing your Naturopathic doctor. If you already have a concussion and are suffering from continued symptoms, contact your Naturopathic doctor so that he/she can guide you and provide a treatment plan for full recovery.
Remember, no matter how small you think the injury is all ‘hits to the head’ are now considered brain injuries! Take care of your brain, it’s the only one you have!
As always, I am here for any questions or concerns!
Cynthia Schmeck, ND, MSc, NASM-CPT
Need guidance with post-concussion care? Suffering from symptoms after a concussion? We are here to help and guide you to optimal health, getting you back in the game sooner!
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7- Wei IH, Tu HC, Huang CC, Tsai MH, Tseng CY, Shieh JY. (-)-Epigallocatechin gallate attenuates NADPH-d/nNOS expression in motor neurons of rats following peripheral nerve injury BMC Neurosci. 2011 Jun 1; 12():52.
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9- Park SK, Jung IC, Lee WK, Lee YS, Park HK, Go HJ, Kim K, Lim NK, Hong JT, Ly SY, Rho SS. A combination of green tea extract and l-theanine improves memory and attention in subjects with mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled study. J Med Food. 2011 Apr; 14(4):334-43.
10- Petraglia AL, Winkler EA, Bailes JE. Stuck at the bench: Potential natural neuroprotective compounds for concussion. Surg Neurol Int. 2011;2:146. doi: 10.4103/2152-7806.85987. Epub 2011 Oct 12.