Functional Medicine & Lifestyle Medicine 816-287-0078

Let’s play ball! I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get back in the stands and watch my little men start playing their contact sports.  

One of the items that was huge in our son’s recent flag football zoom call was the topic of concussions. I know as a parent,  I hope to not have to deal with my boys getting a concussion, but I do need to be ready if it happens. 

Over 500,000 kids visit emergency rooms each year for concussions. 

Much of the advice shared regarding concussions are signs and symptoms of a concussion.   This, along with resolution criteria to get them back to participation. I would prefer that parents play a more active and aggressive role in their child’s injury.   One topic that is overlooked, I feel, is the nutrition that needs to be implemented to heal the child’s brain and gut….yes, I said gut.  I will explain that later in the post. 

First, what is a concussion? A concussion is a complex pathophysiological process affecting the brain induced by traumatic biomechanical forces. Here is a link to the CDC  with some helpful handouts and links to dig deeper.

A physician will categorize the signs and symptoms into the following:

  1. Somatic: headache, dizziness balance disruption, nausea/vomiting, visual disturbances, phonophobia (aversion to loud sounds), photophobia (aversion to light)
  2. Cognitive: confusion, amnesia, loss of consciousness, disoriented, brain fog, vacant stare, inability to focus, delayed verbal and motor responses, slurred/incoherent speech, excessively tired
  3. Affective: emotional lability, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, sadness.
  4.  Sleep: trouble falling asleep, sleeping more than normal or less than normal.

As you can see the list is quite diverse. No two children will be alike in their presentation of a concussion.  That is why you, as their parent, can be the best advocate for them by knowing their symptoms. If your gut is telling you it’s not normal, it probably isn’t. 

There is a list of recommendations and steps that should be taken for return to play that I will not be covering here. I would like to present a nutritional approach to help heal your little athlete before, during and after a concussion. As always ‘Food Is Medicine’ and that applies even more heavily when we are discussing brain injury. 

Our brain is a jello like substance that rests in the hardest bone in the body. It weighs approximately 3 pounds and is the most nutrient dependent, energy dependent and toxin & stress vulnerable organ in our body.  When there is impact made to the skull, this jelly like substance bounces about, creating damage to the brain cells. 

The brain is made up of 60% fat (yet, we consume 60% carbohydrate diet….hmmm), feels no pain due to lack of pain receptors and consumes 25% of our energy sources. 

As I stated before, 500,000 kids are sent to the emergency room every year for sports-related concussions. When we have our 1st concussion we are 1.5x more likely to get a 2nd and after a 2nd, 3x more likely to get a 3rd. 

I feel this increased frequency comes back to the healing and repairing process. The advice that most of us get is:  1) rest, 2) sleep and 3) transition back to normal activities when no symptoms are present. However, we just learned that the brain feels no pain… is it possible we are sending them back before their brain is truly healed?

We need nutritional support! If our brain is 60% fat would it make sense to then binge on a carbohydrate heavy meal to fuel the brain? I think NOT! 

Why do we need the RIGHT nutrition pre & post-concussion?  It’s simple, good nutrition:

-reduces inflammation

-decreases chemical changes happening in the body

-provides neuroprotection

-speeds up recovery

-prevents further damage.

A study out of The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) July of 2017 found that 99% of the brains of former NFL football players had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).  Let that sink in:  99%!

Another study from Translational Psychiatry in 2017 concluded that athletes who began playing tackle football before the age 12 had more behavioral and cognitive problems later in life than those who started playing after turning 12. Additionally, 47% of concussion happened to children 12-15 in part due to not having a fully formed skull. 

I do not quote these to scare you. I do this to show that we have a missing link. I have worked with professional and Olympic level soccer athletes and I can tell you nutrition was not part of their post concussion protocol. Also, I think we all know that most children under age 12 are eating nothing but a Standard American Diet (SAD). 

With the above objectives in mind, what are the right foods and supplements to use when we want to help heal our kids from a concussion?  We have to start with what NOT to give them. First, removing gluten and dairy for at least the first 2 weeks is an important step. Gluten is inflammatory to humans independent of a Celiac or gluten sensitivity issue. There are also toxic chemicals, like glyphosate, that are sprayed on wheat products to increase yield. As I stated earlier, the brain is one of the most toxic vulnerable organs. Studies have also shown that within 4 hours of a head injury we can develop what is called ‘intestinal permeability’ or leaky gut. The gut and the brain are in constant communication.   Anything that is harming the brain, will harm the gut.  Gluten is a catalyst in leaky gut, therefore, it would be a double whammy. More about the gut brain connection another time!

Step 1:  Anti-inflammatory diet – No gluten & dairy for at least two weeks(I advise forever).

Step 2: Avoid MSG and artificial sweeteners 

Step 3: No vegetable oils, sugar, alcohol or artificial ingredients….(skip the gatorade)

Step 4: Use of brain supporting supplements: these supplements can reduce inflammation, decrease neuronal damage, reduce oxidative stress, increase antioxidants

  • Fish oil: 2,000 mg/day + daily for weeks or months.
  • Vit D: 1000 iu 
  • N-Acetyl -cysteine: 300-1500 mg.
  • Curcumin: 500 mg 2 times per day  a study in the Experimental Neurology Journal revealed that curcumin counteracted the outcome of a traumatized brain in oxidative stress, and cognition.
  • Blueberries:  pack ½ wild blueberries as a pre and post game snack.
  • Magnesium Threonate:  200 mg twice per day.

Visit my dispensary to get my “Concussion Favorites”

This is not an all inclusive list but plenty to get started.

Step 5: Decrease consumption of carbohydrate foods. These foods, which are usually processed, have lots of trans fats and sugar. Two big enemies to the brain. 

Step 6: Maintain healthy intake of protein and fats. Think a nice grass fed burger, no bun, with sliced avocado and a side of broccoli with a grass fed butter topping. And mom it’s simple!

Step 7: Hydrate with water! Skip the energy drinks or gatorade/vitamin water drinks. These are usually full of sugars, artificial ingredients and dyes. Most kids are not working hard or long enough in their sports to require electrolyte replacement drinks. It’s a marketing scam!  Also, the high fructose corn syrup in most of these drinks can destroy production of growth hormones. YIKES

Step 8: MOVE:   Yes you probably are told to rest after a concussion. A study from JAMA in 2016 concluded that children recover faster from concussion when they are physically active after concussion.  

  • Exercises that have minimal head movement (stationary bike, elliptical, walking)

This is likely due to BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) being enhanced through exercise which blocks injury-related cell death and helps nerve growth!

That is a lot of information to digest.  It is important to remember that pre concussion nutrition is just as important, if not more important, than post concussion nutrition. The human body is resilient when it is given the proper nutrient load. 

Not sure where to start? Work on your child’s diet to get them eating more from the rainbow🌈 and less from a box. Kids do not need to “carb load”! Their bodies need high quality protein and good healthy fats.  This will not only protect the brain but all organ systems in their amazing body. 

I also recommend a healthy collagen based smoothie with water or green tea, blueberries, MCT oil and unsweetened almond/coconut milk. You can even open many capsules right into the “Brain Smoothie”

I’ll end with a quote:

“Without proper nutrition, the full potential of the athlete will not be realized, because performance will not be at its peak, training levels may not be sustained, recovery from injury will be slower, and the athlete may be susceptible to injury and infection.”