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Feed Your Body, Feed Your Brain: Nutritional Tips to Speed Recovery

Comments [12]

Mary Ann Keatley, PHD, CCC and Laura L. Whittemore, Brain Injury Hope Foundation

Feed Your Body, Feed Your Brain: Nutritional Tips to Speed Recovery
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A healthy diet during the recovery from a brain injury is highly beneficial. Scientists know that deficiencies in certain nutrients and chemicals can cause disruptions in brain functioning and the ability to think clearly. The brain uses calories to function. When someone sustains a brain injury, it is necessary to eat enough nutritional calories to help the brain function efficiently.

Nutritional Tips for Head Injuries

  • Eat small meals every three to four hours.
  • Keep small baggies of healthy snacks with you during the day to boost your energy, such as nuts, trail mix, apples, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and energy bars. Ask a member of your family or support group to make these for you and put them in a small cooler to take with you when away from home.
  • Balance small meals with a combination of protein, healthy fats and oils, and carbohydrates. Proteins include fish, lean meats, nuts, and eggs. Healthy fats and oils can be found in avocados, seeds, and nuts. Carbohydrates are found in vegetables, fresh fruits, and grains. Avoid eating carbohydrates by themselves if you have blood sugar concerns. Many individuals report that sugar and chocolate increase headaches, so eat sweets sparingly.
  • Eat moderately. Do not overeat as it can cause you to feel sleepy.
  • Eat by the clock. If your brain/body signals are not working well, set a timer, watch alarm or a mobile phone to alert you that it’s time to eat.
  • Since weight gain is common following brain injury, this is another reason to stick to a healthy diet.
  • Try to eat around the same time every day. The body does best when it is on a routine schedule.

Grocery Shopping and Menu Ideas

Shopping and preparing meals take a lot of energy. The grocery store is a very difficult environment when you have a head injury because of the lights, visual stimulation, and sounds.

  • A magnetized notepad posted on the refrigerator is a time saver for writing down the food items to get during your next shopping trip. Photocopy a shopping list that you use regularly and circle the items you need to purchase during your next shopping trip. If you go to the same store each week, plan your list to follow the order of the aisles. For example, fresh foods usually line the walls or periphery of the grocery store, with packaged, canned, and frozen foods in the center aisles. This will help you conserve energy so that you won’t have to make trips back and forth across the store.
  • If you must go to the grocery store, try to choose a time when it is less crowded and less noisy. In the beginning, enlist the help of neighbors or friends to pick up the items on your shopping list when they are making a trip to the grocery store.
  • If you are sensitive to noise and light, wear earplugs or filters and/or tinted glasses when shopping.
  • Shop when you are well fed. You will make smarter food choices when you are not starving and your focus and attention will be sharper.
  • Develop a list of your favorite fast, easy meal ideas. Keep this posted on your refrigerator or inside a cupboard door for easy access.
  • Keep menus simple—avoid recipes with elaborate steps or unusual ingredients that aren’t familiar to you.
  • When preparing meals, always make extra to store in the refrigerator for the next day or two, or to put in the freezer. Put portions of foods into plastic or glass containers, and cover them with lids or plastic wrap.
  • Throw protein foods out after three days in the refrigerator. Always practice safe food handling. Visit http://www.foodsafety.gov for further information.
  • After a brain injury some people lose their sense of smell, and it is very important to be alert to the expiration dates on food.

What About Vitamins and Supplements?

There are many books and articles in magazines and on the Internet with tips and ideas for a healthy diet. It is highly recommended that fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, meats and grains are superior to processed foods and build the immune system. In addition, the following list of suggested supplements may help complement and enhance your nutritional intake.

  • Multivitamins can supply the basic vitamins and supplements that your diet may be lacking.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids counteract free radicals that cause oxidative damage to brain cells and may help improve nerve signal transmission at synapses.
  • Probiotics is a beneficial bacteria that helps maintain a healthy intestine and aides in digestion.
  • Antioxidants which include vitamins C, E, and beta carotene counteract oxidative damage caused by certain foods, and the stress caused by brain injury.
  • Brain Vitale is a product that combines two beneficial brain nutrients which help repair neurons—phosphatidyl serine and acetyl carnitine.
  • Coenzyme Q10 is a natural antioxidant that is necessary for the basic functioning of cells.
  • Phosphatidyl serine (PS) aids in the proper release and reception of neurotransmitters in the brain and helps with memory.
  • Acetyl L-carnitine plays a key role in fatty acid oxidation and is used to improve memory.
  • B vitamins boost metabolism and effect brain and nervous system functioning.
  • GPC — glycerophosphocholine helps to sharpen alertness, reasoning, information processing, and other types of mental performance.

Consult a nutritionist or health care provider for an individualized program of supplementation. By eating well, you are developing a good foundation for recovery of your body and brain.

Foods to Avoid

Try to avoid the following foods:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Salty foods
  • Excessive sweets and candy

Warning:

You may find that if you drink alcohol following your injury, it may have a stronger effect than before because your tolerance level has changed. Alcohol may interact with prescription medications. Some people may turn to alcohol or other addictive substances to medicate themselves for physical or emotional pain. “It has been said that there should be no bottom line here. The use of these drugs in an already disrupted physiological system will further induce neurological and cognitive decline. They should be avoided by survivors of TBI.1

 

Resources

1  Jay, G. 2000. Minor Traumatic Brain Injury Handbook: Diagnosis and Treatment. New York: CRC Press.

From Understanding Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: An Insightful Guide to Symptoms, Treatments, and Redefining Recovery by Mary Ann Keatley, PHD, CCC and Laura L. Whittemore. © 2010 by the Brain Injury Hope Foundation. Used with permission. www.braininjuryhopefoundation.org.

Comments [12]

It's really good to know all the foods I can eat to help my recovery. I'm going to be taking a lot of vitamins as well. It's good to have a list of what each one does.

Tara |  http://www.kybackdoc.com 

Mar 26th, 2014 5:44pm

Has anyone tried using coconut oil as a supplement. I am considering it for our son

Mar 11th, 2014 3:10pm

Awesome post I have read many post before about immune system and this is one of the best. Thanks for your advice. Immune Booster If you have a chronic medical condition, such as heart disease, asthma, or diabetes, or if you're pregnant or an older adult, it’s important to talk with your doctor if you catch the flu.

Oct 29th, 2013 6:42am

So much of what she said is logical. now I am progressing from my concussion back in Dec or 2012. these are helping day to day lights and noise are so key, processing/ decision making anything getting better. nutrition elements some new stuff to add to my list .Learning and adjusting intake and activiity to each day. The Refrigerator is the center of my life, concrete center.

Feb 19th, 2013 11:30am

I had TBI resulting from stroke. Right side affected, head TBI from stroke. Right side affected & head unbearable. Worked with stroke victims for years, so knew exercises to do for affected limbs. Prayed for & declared Healing, in Jesus\' name. Do vitamins & good nutrition. All returning to normal, weeks later, right side and head getting stronger.

Jan 22nd, 2013 8:33am

If you are caring for a TBI loved one, proper brain nutrients will be crucial for full cognitive recovery. The vitamins & supplements listed are fantastic as is the comment from Feb 28th. Add to the list: DHA, blueberries, strawberries, spinach, huge organic salads, extra virgin coconut oil(spread on toast), lecithin granules, GABA + niacinimide + magnesium at night helps deep healing sleep, protein powder mixes and protein bars (try to keep sugar intake low since it will inflame the brain if excessive) Alpha Lipoic Acid will counter any sugar toxicity. My spouse has recovered from TBI and severe bodily injuries in 3 months with a dedicated diet, love and support from caring family and friends. The body can only rebuild if given proper nutrition. Also stay far far away from aspartame, splenda and MSG in all foods. Vaccines should all be avoided as well. All these issues can be found on website: naturalnews.com and Dr. Russel Blaylock's book, "Health and Nutrition Secrets" He also has great Youtube videos. Good luck and healing to all.

Sep 25th, 2012 2:10am

This site is the best advice and support i have had . Having read the comments above i feel better about talking to my dad who does not seem to believe that my fall could have had such an adverse effect on how i get along in the world. Work, school and personal relationships are emotion and physicly draining sometimes. thank you for the benefit of showing my excuse is not just an excuse.

Jul 16th, 2012 2:40pm

Thank you for this wealth of information. It is the little things that add up to help the most. Our Sean has a anoxic brain injury from emergency heart surgery in 2009. He has come such a long way but every little bit helps. Again thank you.

Jun 6th, 2012 12:57pm

this is gave me a lot of confidence.I am only 17 and I had an horse accident in July and since then i have changed so much and I am trying to get back to the old Shane but I don't get a lot of family help.My parents don't help really at all they think i am faking it when I start having some symptoms and think i am crazy when really im not.After reading this website though I have alot of motivation.So thank you. Shane McKinley

Mar 21st, 2012 12:43pm

Wonderful article! This is nice to see coming out as the correct nutrition is one of the foundations of healing! I would even go a step further and explore organic foods as the chemicals in our food supply do not promote healing and are counter productive in causing more problems as one can be more sensitive to these after a brain injury. Thank you!

Feb 28th, 2012 10:10pm

I got a Traumatic Brain Injury in 1999. My advice to you is to carefully see what you are able to do, then do it. Everyone is different. Take it easy & good luck

Jan 13th, 2011 12:53pm

i suffered a ntbi which left my left side now disabled .let me tell my story i walked into hospital and left in a wheelchair i had an avm whats the best solution for me

Jan 8th, 2011 4:18pm


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