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Using Nutrition to Speed up Concussion Recovery

My son is an active teen and soccer player. This year he sustained two concussions within a five month period--the latest one was from a soccer match, and the earlier concussion was from messing around with boxing gloves and friends--apparently the "invincibility factor" teens possess causes failure to see consequences to their actions where boxing in ANY form is concerned. D'OH!

Don't get me wrong, my son is actually far more responsible and mature than most kids his age. He is one of those "wise beyond his years" kind of kids. But I think his spontaneity got the better of him...

Needless to say, the second concussion was worse than the first and he had to sit out of several weeks of the High School soccer season. As a concerned parent, I researched all I could about multiple concussions and recovery practices. Recovery was a slow process. The concussion return to play protocol today is far more conservative than the limited protocol of the past. The brain needs time to heal and the player needs to be symptom free before starting ANY limited activity within the protocol. If a symptom returns, the whole thing starts over again.

As a nutritionist, I'm curious about foods that help us heal. Our bodies are miraculous and complicated, with parameters of optimal functioning that rely heavily on clean eating of whole foods. Eating processed foods, artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and additives will bog down our systems with junk and make it difficult for our bodies to perform at their best and healthiest. If you put crappy food in your body, your body is going to perform and feel crappy. It's as simple as that. If you want to speed up healing and health, you need to eat what your body systems naturally crave for optimal functioning.

There are several nutrients that can facilitate the healing of the brain after a concussion. It's crucial for the brain to have an increased production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). When the brain is injured, it responds by releasing many natural chemicals to repair the injured neurons. It releases BDNF, which helps neurons grow, restores communication among them and reduces the risk of neuro-degeneration. Important nutrients that help produce BDNF are the following:

1) PROTEIN: extra protein is needed for healing and rebuilding damaged tissues.

2) CREATINE: creatine is important for energy production in the cells. It helps give the brain immediate energy, which it uses to help the cells start to heal.

3) VITAMIN D: vitamin D supplements helps raise BDNF production and is neuroprotective.

4) OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS: the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, found in fish oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, etc, are essential for reducing brain inflammation, raising BDNF, and building strong, flexible cell membranes.

5) VITAMIN C, SELENIUM, NIACINAMIDE (VIT B3), N-acetyl-L-cysteine and BROCCOLI EXTRACT: these nutrients are essential for producing glutathione...

6) GLUTATHIONE: glutathione is the body's most abundant natural antioxidant. It can help reduce brain tissue damage.

7) MAGNESIUM: magnesium is necessary for brain function, especially for manufacturing the neurotransmitters that help neurons communicate with one another. Magnesium also helps prevent delayed brain injury and post-concussion syndrome.

8) ZINC: supplemental zinc during the recovery period can help improve cognition and mood.

9) CURCUMIN: curcumin (the active ingredient in the spice turmeric) is a valuable supplement for concussion treatment. After a brain injury, curcumin supplements can help reduce cognitive impairment, help stabilize energy use in the brain and reduce membrane damage in the neurons. In animal studies and in human trials, the supplement raises BDNF production. It has multiple anti-inflammatory mechanisms for a damaged brain.

When a concussion is diagnosed, these nutrients can play an important role in healing the damage quickly and are valuable to helping to avoid post-concussion syndrome.

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