Concussion: Treat It Now, Keep Your Brain Later

Mike took a spill on his bicycle recently.  He wasn’t going very far, so he didn’t want to waste the time to look for his helmet.  Hitting his head and injuring his shoulder and elbow on the sidewalk, he took a couple minutes to get back on his feet.  He managed to ride the rest of the short distance to his destination.  Upon arriving, however, he was not making sense to those around him. He was taken to the hospital and evaluated with examination and a CT scan.

When everything came back normal, Mike was diagnosed with a concussion and sent home to rest.  He was instructed to avoid any stimulation and stay out of school until cleared by his doctor.  For weeks, he couldn’t focus enough to complete his homework and his behavior was inappropriate if not outright defiant at times.

Immediate and short-term consequences of concussions vary widely. Common symptoms include memory loss, headache, sleep disturbances, irritability, fatigue, nausea, difficulty concentrating, brain fog, depression, anxiety, nausea/vomiting, light-headedness, dizziness, and sensitivity to light or noise.

Most symptoms subside on their own within days to weeks.  When they persist for months or years, doctors diagnose post-concussion syndrome. But this isn’t the worst we can expect from non-crippling head trauma. This is because the original injury is just the beginning of the damage to the brain. Thereafter, secondary brain damage can result from free radicals, release of neurotransmitters, inflammatory responses, calcium-mediated damage, mitochondrial dysfunction, and gene activation.

Concussion has been in the spotlight in recent years, following the recognition that a single concussion at any time in a person’s life more than doubles his or her risk of dementia. This is true even when the concussion does not include loss of consciousness.

An estimated 29% of Americans report having suffered one or more concussions during their lifetimes.  This is no small number.  Unfortunately, it often takes a high-profile case like that of Miami Dolphins Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to get people's attention regarding the seriousness of this problem.

Whereas dementia is the most notable long-term consequence of traumatic brain injury (TBI), several others have been identified. These include psychiatric problems (depression, anxiety, psychosis, etc.), behavioral changes, movement disorders, Parkinson’s, alcohol abuse, intestinal hyperpermeability (“leaky gut”), testosterone deficiency, erectile dysfunction, and much more. Intestinal hyperpermeability alone increases risk of ADHD, hay fever, obesity, eczema, asthma, food sensitivities, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and more. In other words, if its effects on the brain aren’t enough, TBI can affect every aspect of one’s health.

As society begins to pay attention to the serious consequences of even mild head injuries by building more protection into physical activities and exercising increased caution in return-to-play guidelines (in the case of organized sports), treatment of these injuries remains woefully inadequate.  As confirmed by an Institute of Medicine report in 2001, “an average of about 17 years is required for new knowledge generated by randomized controlled trials to be incorporated into practice.” In the case of TBI, many if not most physicians continue to recommend that patients lay in bed and avoid reading, listening to music, watching television, talking, and any physical activity.

Symptoms that are intolerable or otherwise interfere with daily activities are managed with pain medicine, nausea medicine, dizziness medicine, sleeping pills, antidepressants, physical or occupational therapy, and so forth. In other words, no TBI-specific treatment has been recognized and promoted by the major medical societies. The reason for this is simple: There is no drug that repairs damaged neurons.

The fact that the “wait-and-see approach” to TBI continues to prevail in American medicine is most unfortunate. There is published evidence, for example, that initiation of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise within the first three days of injury improves multiple aspects of brain function and speeds recovery. But this is not all. The sooner a TBI sufferer begins a comprehensive program of brain rehabilitation, the better off he will be. He will be able to return to full pre-injury activities sooner, have less risk of post-concussion syndrome, and be less likely to develop dementia, Parkinson’s, or other irreversible brain dysfunction decades later. Short of the onset of dementia, however, it is never too late to start brain rehabilitation.

This is because injury to the brain sets in motion an inflammatory cascade that doesn’t have an “off” switch. Even when repair is complete and all symptoms are gone, damage to neurons continues for the rest of one’s life. Because we have an average of 86 billion neurons, we don’t readily notice the thousands of neurons that are constantly being lost to the inflammatory process. When we do begin to notice impairments in memory and/or thinking, we typically chalk them up to aging, not realizing we are on our way to dementia, and that it stemmed from one or more concussions decades ago.

For this reason, whenever a patient presents to Prestige Wellness Institute with a history of concussion, whether it happened yesterday or sixty years ago, we recommend an aggressive individualized program designed to squelch inflammation and restore full function (if any is lacking) as quickly as possible. If the injury is recent, early aerobic activity is encouraged.

Additional interventions include—based on individual needs—pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, brain-nourishing nutrients, high-dose melatonin, fatty acids, anti-inflammatory herbs, neurofeedback, repair peptides, high-grade probiotics, gut repair, and oral or IV antioxidants. As research advances and new technologies become available, we continually refine our protocol to enhance brain function in affected people.

If you or someone you love has suffered one or more concussions at any point in your life and want to maintain optimal brain function well into your later years, consider consulting with us for an evaluation and rehabilitation program by calling (435) 315-2726.  And if you have a personal connection to to Tua Tagovailoa, have him give us a call.  He cannot afford to follow the traditional approach if he wants to enjoy optimal brain function now and for the rest of his life.  Neither can you.

Author
Ray Andrew, MD

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