The Need for "Brain Fuel" After a TBI

The brain is only 2% of a person's body mass, but it takes 20% of the body's energy. The brain's need for energy increases exponentially after a TBI.

So what can we do now? Say we get somebody who says, "Okay, we've got somebody that--we'll pull somebody out that has a concussion. Do we just let them sit there and wait for Mother Nature to take its course and then wait for the two weeks or a week or whatever it is until the symptoms alleviate and the brain now has returned to its pre-concussive state where it can actually take another hit without a problem? Or is there something that we could intervene? Could we actually do something now? And the more we're beginning to learn about how the brain responds to concussion, the first thing that we've learned that has been remarkable is how much energy it takes for the brain to recover from a concussion. It burns an enormous amount of fuel. The brain only makes up 2% of your body's mass, but it takes up 20% of your energy. When it has a concussion, the amount of energy that it needs is enormous. It's like 100% more. Children or people who are growing up don't reach maturity, metabolic maturity in the brain, until well after 25 years of age. Kids will burn--normally they will have twice the amount of metabolism in the brain required. So could you provide a fuel? Could you help Mother Nature by providing a fuel for this? And so there are lots of things that people are contemplating, and what's popular right now are energy drinks--the old Gatorade, when it came out-- but that was for the idea for the body to have the electrolytes to be able to perform well. Could you think of an "ade" of some sort that you could give to somebody either before a fight or during a fight or during a football game or after a football game or while they were trying to recover from a concussion? What could we do to improve that fuel demand? What we really know a lot about is what we don't want them to do. So we don't want them to increase that energy demand. We don't want them to have a seizure. We don't want them to exercise a lot. In some cases at UCLA we will take kids out of school, and we'll just let them not be exposed to a higher energy demand. So that's one avenue that seems to have a lot of popularity to it. It doesn't mean that you give everybody a Snickers bar, after their concussion, and they're clear. But the concept of providing that kind of fuel and nutrient is very, very popular now.
Posted on BrainLine October 24, 2011.

Produced by Noel Gunther, Ashley Gilleland, and Brian King, BrainLine.

About the author: David Hovda, PhD

David Hovda, PhD is the director of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center. He is past president of the National Neurotrauma Society and past president of the International Neurotrauma Society.  He has served as chair of study sections for the National Institute for Neurological Disease and Stroke.

David Hovda