Will fish oil be the concussion treatment of the future?


​Does it seem like more and more kids are getting concussions? There has been an increase in the number of concussions in student athletes over the past several years. This has led to interest in potential nutritional approaches to prevention and treatment. In 2011 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released their report “Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury,” which was focused on treating military TBIs.  The report identified some nutrients of interest for future research both for these serious injuries and for mild TBI (concussion.) These include omega 3 fatty acids, choline, creatine, zinc, resveratrol, curcumin, and other plant based anti-oxidants.

​In mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) there is inflammation and damage to cell walls and axons that transmit nerve impulses. Animal studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids given before and after TBI reduce the effects of a concussion and enhance recovery. There have been a few human case studies which have shown dramatic improvements with very high doses of omega 3 fatty acids. This has led to hope that nutritional interventions can help to restore normal brain cell function and reduce inflammation in the brain following TBI.
Dr. Michael Lewis has developed “The Omega Protocol,” which he believes is a tool for management and recovery from TBI. This protocol advocates very high doses of fish oil (source of DHA and EPA, the important omega 3 fatty acids.) He stresses that this is a therapeutic use of fish oil, not just a nutritional use.
While a lot more research is needed before uniform recommendations can be made about nutritional treatments for concussion, there are some good general nutrition guidelines for optimum brain health and function.

  • Eat breakfast every day for improved cognitive function and alertness
  • Include plenty of brightly colored fruits and vegetables and spices to provide plant phytochemicals that protect cells
  • Include foods such as fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, and canola oil that are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids
  • Include good sources of iron such as lean meats, legumes, and leafy green vegetables to maintain normal blood levels of iron

It will be exciting to see if nutrition will eventually become a key player in treating concussions. The IOM report cautions, however that nutritional interventions don’t stand alone, but are complementary and supportive of other therapies.
Please note that the photo is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement of any manufacturer, product or dosage.
© 2015 Kathleen Searles, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN

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