Nutrition’s Emerging Role in Concussion Treatment

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Last year I got this call from my daughter's school: "Hi, this is the school nurse with a courtesy call. Your daughter hit her head on her desk when she was crawling underneath to pick up her pencil. We applied ice, and she seemed to be doing fine so we sent her back to class. Still, you might want to keep an eye on it."

These courtesy calls are part of a growing movement to monitor for signs of and treat concussions. Typically associated with high-contact sports, concussions can result from everyday activities, like falling out of bed, slipping in the bathtub, or being hit by an errant ball at recess. Various state-level laws and increased reporting in the media have placed pressure on coaches, administrators and parents to steer away from recommendations of "shaking off" a head injury and instead adopt a policy of watchful waiting. While such emphasis on concussions may be behind the sharp spike in diagnoses, the hope is that we're catching and treating concussions earlier and more often.

Symptoms of concussions may not occur immediately, and may be especially hard to diagnose in children -- particularly young children who are not yet verbal. The most common signs include:

  - Headache
  - Nausea/vomiting
  - Dizziness
  - Sensitivity to light
  - Difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating
  - Trouble with sleeping (too much or too little)

When in doubt, go to the emergency room or an urgent care facility. Have your child screened for possible concussion.

Newer research suggests that, in addition to traditional protocols such as resting and gradually increasing activity, certain nutrients may help treat or even lessen the severity of concussions. Dr. Michael Lewis is the leading expert on treatment and prevention of concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI) and is the author of "When Brains Collide: What Every Athlete and Parent Should Know About the Prevention and Treatment of Concussions and Head Injuries." Dr. Lewis recommends an omega-3 protocol following TBI, which includes high doses of EPA/DHA omega-3 supplements, like fish oil, for a period immediately following the brain injury, gradually decreasing to a maintenance mode.

You should always check with your doctor before introducing supplements as part of a concussion treatment procedure. In the meantime, it's a good idea to incorporate more omega-3-rich foods into the diet to reap the overall health benefits of these important nutrients that are known to support heart health and brain and eye development and function. Unfortunately, 95 percent of Americans don't get enough EPA and DHA and average only 113 mg/day compared to the 250-1,000 mg/day many health professionals recommend. To increase intake, consume more of the following EPA and DHA omega-3 sources: 

 - Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, etc.)
 - EPA- and DHA-fortified foods (eggs, milks, etc.)
 - Fish oil, krill or algae supplements

Also, if your kids are like mine and don't always love eating fish, here are some great recipes to try that are packed with EPA and DHA omega-3s:

  - Baked Salmon and Vegetable Roll-ups 
  - Greek Salmon Burgers 
  - Peach Mango Smoothie

Elana Natker is a nationally recognized food and nutrition communications expert and spokesperson. Visit for more information.

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