Healing After a Concussion

Healing After a Concussion

The human brain consumes more energy at rest than any other organ in the body.  Although it makes up only 2% of the body by weight, it consumes 20% of the body’s total energy production. This is largely due to the energy dependent ion pumps that work to maintain an electro-chemical gradient across the cell membrane of brain cells called neurons. This electro-chemical gradient allows for the near instantaneous transmission of signals throughout the brain and body, allowing us to think thoughts and wiggle our toes. When an injury to the brain occurs, energy demand increases even further. The first step in healing from a concussion (after being cleared by your medical doctor), is to support energy production at a cellular level. 

Mitochondria are the energy producing powerhouses of the cell, when you think energy, think mitochondria. Mitochondria take the food you eat, combine it with the oxygen that you breathe, and make units of energy called ATP. Our mitochondria make the energy necessary for every function in our bodies - from repairing damaged brain cells to running a marathon. At a time when we most need energy for healing and repair - our mitochondrial function has often been compromised by the concussion giving us a double whammy - an increased need for energy and a decreased ability to produce it.  An article in the journal Concussion points to mitochondrial dysfunction as a key contributor to the damage, and therefore the symptoms, caused by a concussion. Even a single mild concussion can lead to mitochondrial dysfunction, decreased energy, and delayed healing. 

How well our mitochondria produce energy is based on several factors including adequate blood supply, the availability of specific cofactors required in the energy making process, and ability of our cells to minimize mitochondrial damage from oxidative stress. 

1.  Circulation. Concussions have been shown to decrease blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain (1,2). Vipocetine is a powerful plant-based antioxidant that enhances blood flow and oxygenation to the brain. As I mentioned above, an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain supplies the raw materials needed by the mitochondria to produce the energy for healing. Low Level Laser Therapy, Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field Therapy, and moderate exercise are other effective ways to stimulate blood flow to the brain.

2. Feeding Your Mitochondria. When used as fuel sources, sugars and processed carbohydrates produce excess free radicals and oxidative stress, further damaging your mitochondria. It is a good idea to avoid sugars and processed foods in general, but it is particularly important when healing from a concussion. Focus on eating organic vegetables, healthy proteins such as grass fed meats or wild caught salmon and healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, mct oil and grass fed butter. Intermittent fasting can help too, try not eating after 6:30 in the evening and waiting a few hours after you wake up to have breakfast. Additionally, there are supplements specifically designed to supply the nutrients needed to improve energy production of the brain’s mitochondria. 

3. Oxidative Stress. The production of ATP (energy) by the mitochondria is not 100% efficient and by-products called free radicals are produced. Think of free radicals as hot coals bumping around inside your cells - they can damage whatever they bump into, including the mitochondria. As long as our cells are able to produce adequate amounts of antioxidants, free radical damage is kept in check. As we age our cells’ ability to make antioxidants decreases, resulting in increased oxidative stress. In a nutshell, the difference between the amount of free radicals produced and the amount of antioxidants able to put out the “fire” of the hot coals (free radicals) is called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been associated with several disease processes including cancer, autoimmune conditions, asthma, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS. Interestingly, multiple concussions have been linked to an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases, due in part to the effects of oxidative stress. We can reduce oxidative stress by avoiding toxins in our environment, eating organic, avoiding processed foods, and activating the Nrf2 pathway. Certain plant compounds have been shown to activate Nrf2, upregulating your cells ability to make antioxidants and leading to decreased levels of oxidative stress.  A powerful supplement designed to activate the Nrf2 pathway is available in our office.  

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