Part One:  How Natural Medicine Can Help you Recover from a Concussion

How a Concussion Influences the Brain

Who doesn’t know someone who has had or is suffering from a concussion?  There are an estimated 3 million sports-related head injuries in US athletes yearly.  As new research evolves, we are learning that concussion care needs to be more comprehensive than just rest and re-evaluation. New research has shown that every concussion, no matter how mild, should be considered a mild traumatic brain injury that interferes with normal function of the brain.  “Minor” impacts or blows to the head are no longer just bumps to the head and the concept of a mild concussion is a thing of the past. They are all brain injuries!

Naturopathic medicine, Concussion, Natural Medicine

Concussions are more common and serious than once thought.

Most people recover completely from a concussion within a week or two; yet, for a considerable number of people, the negative effects can last for months and even years, especially when not treated properly.  Observational studies have shown that the symptoms of a concussion can last for 10 years or longer. This is known as post-concussion syndrome.  Symptoms of a concussion are variable in terms of type, intensity, and duration in everyone. Symptoms can also be cumulative. 

Concussion and Post-concussion syndrome symptoms are classified into four main areas: 

  • Physical- Headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, blurred/double vision, noise/light sensitivity
  • Emotional– Anxiety, Depression or irritability, agitation, quiet
  • Cognitive- Memory, decision making, concentration difficulties, confusion, general feeling of fogginess, academic difficulties
  • Sleep- Falling and/or staying asleep

This list only touches the surface of possible symptoms that an individual can experience.  Important symptoms to add are autonomic symptoms, such as positional hypotension (rapid decrease in blood pressure due to changes in the position of the body).

It’s also important to note that symptoms reported from the affected individual are only valid in the acute phase of the concussion (first 6 weeks) and are no longer valid in the chronic phase.  To take this point further, research has revealed that cognitive deficits were found in asymptomatic athletes within 4 days post-concussion; meaning that simply because someone doesn’t report any symptoms doesn’t mean that the brain has fully recovered from its injury. 

There are also metabolic/chemical changes that occur within the brain after a concussion that disrupt the way it normally functions.  After a concussion, the brain struggles with making energy for itself and decreases the way it uses glucose- the main form of energy for the brain.  This change causes the brain to function at a less than optimal level.  With these changes come abnormalities with glutamate, potassium, sodium, and calcium.  Glutamate is especially important because it’s a neurotransmitter that sends signals in the brain and throughout the nerves in the body. Glutamate plays an important role during brain development and normal levels of glutamate help with learning and memory.      

Other functional changes that occur are decreased blood flow to the brain, neuroendocrine irregularities*, and nerve cell injury.  The prefrontal motor cortex, corpus callosum and central processing network (involved in inhibition) of the brain are also affected. 

With all these changes and negative effects to the brain from a concussion what are the options for full recovery? 

Understanding the changes that occur in the brain from a concussion allows us to understand the seriousness of any hit to the head.  Because of the seriousness of ANY concussion the individual needs to be treated more comprehensively than previously thought.  A proper management team should consist of multiple health care individuals that are part of a specialty care team. Standard medical treatment for a concussion now includes an interdisciplinary approach to treatment along with rest and education. Unfortunately, besides rest, education, and minimal options of prescription medications to treat symptoms, standard medicine does not have an answer on how to effectively treat the changes that occur in the brain.   

This is where Natural Medicine comes into play.  Besides rest and therapy, new treatments in the fields of exercise therapy, nutrient supplementation, and homeopathy show promise both in clinical trials as well as in Naturopathic practice.

There are two main paths for natural medicine to assist in the treatment of a concussion and prevention of post-concussion syndrome:
    1. Ensure optimal nutrition, specific to the metabolic changes that occur.
    2. Reduce inflammation.

If you are interested in learning about the natural supplements used in the treatment of concussions, next week’s blog will outline the specifics of the most effective natural treatments to support your brain in healing after a concussion.   

In Health,

Cynthia Schmeck, ND, MSc, NASM-CPT

*Growth Hormone, Cortisol, Thyroid and Sex hormones

Need guidance with post-concussion care?  Suffering from symptoms after a concussion?  Dr. Schmeck is here to help and guide you to optimal health, getting you back in the game sooner than later!

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