According to the CDC, about 250,000 children (aged 19 or younger) were treated in an ER for concussion in 2009 (1). This number does not even count those children who did not go to the ER for their injuries. An injury to a developing brain is an enormous concern and, with concussion rates rising every year, it is an issue that needs our attention.
Parents are typically told is to make sure their children rest their injured brains by refraining from TV and video games, avoiding bright light and, of course, staying out of sports until the symptoms subside. But diet is not usually addressed.
It might sound like a stretch to say that diet can affect the brain, but recent research has shown a clear connection between the gut and the brain via the vagus nerve (2). In fact, the brain and the gut develop from the same lump of embryonic tissue in utero, and then divide and form the Central Nervous System (the brain and spinal cord) and the Enteric Nervous System (which is in the lining of our GI tract) as the fetus develops (3).
Here are 5 dietary changes you can make to help your child recover from a concussion:
1. AVOID GLUTEN – Gluten causes inflammation in the body and can create little holes in the lining of the intestines, causing undesirable particles to leak into the bloodstream (4). If your body is busy fighting THAT off, it will have precious fewer reserves available to heal the concussion.
2. EAT YOUR OMEGA-3s – cold water, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for the brain. Shoot for 2-3 servings per week. Or you can take extra-virgin cod liver oil as long as it’s from a trusted brand like NutraPro International.
3. CUT OUT THE SEED OILS – this is in part to balance the omega-3 intake and part for the overall health benefits. An improper balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is damaging to the brain so if you are increasing your omega-3 intake, you want to make sure not to overdo it on omega-6s at the same time. The best way to do this is to cut out processed seed oils like sunflower, cottonseed, soybean, vegetable and canola (5).
4. ADD A LITTLE TURMERIC – into soups and stews, in rice or on veggies. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory herb.
5. TAKE A PROBIOTIC – if your gut is happy, your brain will be happy. Prescript-Assist, which contains soil-based organisms, is well-tolerated by most people.
I would also like to put in a plug for sleep here, and lots of it. Our bodies heal when we sleep and injured brains need even more TLC. Most children don’t get enough sleep as it is, so if your child has a concussion, this must become a top priority! OK, so that was sort of a 6th thing but I thought I could sneak it in since it wasn’t exactly diet-related.
I wish that dietary suggestions were given to parents of children with concussions and will work on making that happen! In the meantime, I hope this helps your child recover!