Fish Oil (DHA – omega 3) Therapy for TBI and Concussion: A Literature Review


Fish Oil and Concussion: A Case Study and Review


Case Study: A 14 y/o female, club soccer player suffered concussion. She continued to play through two full-length soccer games. In the days following, she suffered headaches and bright flashes of light in both visual fields. Loud sounds exacerbated the pain. She experienced complete exhaustion, lack of concentration, and difficulty sleeping. Sports activities caused headaches. She missed school due to the chronic pain, causing her grades to drop. As months passed, she discontinued sports and “lost hope in life”. Having been diagnosed with concussion, she visited multiple physicians who initiated various therapies without resolve. To avoid social exclusion, she did not discuss the pain publicly. The following year, she began taking 500mg fish oil supplements of docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Over the next month, the headaches were alleviated, allowing her to return to previous school and sports activities.

Discussion: Concussion and traumatic brain injury(TBI) cause approximately 52,000 deaths, 220 hospitalizations, and 85,000 permanent cases of debilitation each year in the U.S.. Concussion has seen a 4.2 fold increase in cases since 1998 (Barrett, 2014). Symptoms include loss of consciousness, headache, a fogginess, light sensitivity and sleep disturbances for typically 7-10 days after injury. Symptoms may persist for months or longer. (Barrett EC, 2014). Laboratory rodent experiments show that nerve axonal injury is a progressive event which leads to the swelling and disconnect of the axon membrane in hours to days following TBI. The injury causes a lack of transport and communication across axonal membranes, ultimately leading to cell death (Mills JD,, 2011). The societal impact of concussion is staggering given it’s excessive financial cost and ability to cause long term mental disease.

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids such as docoashexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentanoic acid (EPA). This paper explores the current literature evaluating docosahexanoic acid (DHA) as a potential therapy for TBI. Omega-3 fatty acids, most significantly DHA, comprise 60% of brain tissue (Crawford, et al, 1993). An improved understanding of the omega-3 fatty acid nutritional requirements such as DHA, has improved concussion outlooks (Mills JD,, 2011). DHA is essential for maintaining membrane fluidity, thereby affecting the speed of neuronal transmission. Previous laboratory rodent studies have demonstrated the neurological benefits of DHA. More recently, military studies have shown the neurologic benefits of DHA in humans. When

brain tissue is damaged, supplying adequate levels of docosahexanoic acid can be a protective and restorative mechanism for neuronal tissue (Hasadri L,, 2013).

Rodent Neuroprotective DHA findings:

Rodent studies significantly advanced brain trauma therapy in 2006, when a single intravenous dose of DHA was found to reduce inflammatory markers and improve neuron survival (King VR, 2006). In 2008, Drs. Wan-Ling Chung, Jen-Jui Chen, and Hui-Min Su of the Department of Physiology, National Taiwan University College of Medicine in Taipei 100, Taiwan sought to determine whether reference and working memory could be enhanced with DHA supplementation in male rats previously DHA deficient. They fed pups divided into four groups either a normal diet, an eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) supplemented diet, a DHA supplemented diet, or an omega-3 deficient diet. At 140 days after birth, they assessed memory in the rats, through use of a Morris Maze. The rats found the location of the submerged platform in a working memory test and remembered the location of the platform in a reference memory test. The DHA deficient rats showed a significantly poorer memories which were partially improved with DHA supplementation. Rats receiving supplementation throughout brain development and adulthood resulted in a significant enhancement of both memories (Chung, 2008). The hippocampus showed a greater accumulation of DHA.

In evaluation of this study based upon the Quality Criteria Checklist for Primary Research in Non-Human Subjects, this study does not discuss the number of rats in study. The rat selection appears to be free of bias having been obtained from Charles River Laboratories in Taiwan. The criteria appear to have been applied evenly with relevant characteristics being described and analyzed through tissue samples in the lab. Controls were used. Data and statistical analysis appear to be valid, but study groups are not elaborated upon. Interventions were described in detail as to diets and the outcomes clearly defined. Observations and measurements appear to be based on standard, valid, and reliable data. At some points, there appears to be confusion on which type of memory is being measured. They had two goals in determining whether supplementation could revive memory in previously deficient rats and if recovery was brain region specific. They received positive results with both hypotheses. The importance of this study, in the eventual development of DHA as a therapy, is that improvements in rodent neurocognitive abilities are established.


In 2011, two researchers, Dr. Julian Bailes and Dr. J.D. Mills from West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown, West Virginia found that DHA supplementation significantly ameliorated secondary mechanisms of injury and reduced the number of damaged axons in 40 Sprague-Dewey male rats. They randomly selected four groups of 10 rats. One group served as a sham concussion group. A second group received a concussion but no fish oil. The third group received 6mg/kg/day of DHA and a fourth group, 24 mg/kg/day of DHA. DHA was neuroprotective in both the 6mg/kg/day and 24 mg/kg/day populations when administered for 30 days post concussion. The neurons were labeled for damage. The 6mg/kg/day and 24 mg/day groups showed 6.2 +/- 11.4 and 7.7 +/- 14.4 neurons labeled for damage, respectively. This labeling nearly matched the control sham concussion group (Mills, 2011).

In analyzing the results from Bailes and Mills, according to study criteria on the Qualify Criteria Checklist for Primary Research of Non-Human Subjects, the selection of study subjects were not free from bias in that only males rats were used. The study groups appear to be comparable in that random, concurrent controls were utilized given the sham injured, injured supplemented, 6mg/kg/day, and 24 mg/kg/day study groups. Protocol and context were described in detail. The intensity, duration, and treatment were sufficient to produce a meaningful effect and the data appeared to be free from bias and similarly assessed. Key outcomes and nutrition related data were well described and measured with several different markers. Data was based upon reliable procedures/testing and the level of precision was p < 0.05. Measurements were conducted consistently among the groups and the study reported a 96% reduction of axonal injury after DHA supplementation of only 6 mg/kg/day. While researchers may increase the size of this cohort to improve additional studies, the degree of positive results are impressive.

The neuronal tissue in the brain extends down the brainstem into the spinal cord.
Spinal cord injuries (SCI) have long caused debilitating injury to the sensory and motor neurons below the injury site. In 2013, researchers at Loma Linda University found that DHA protected and restored neurons, resulting in significant improvement in the motor

and sensory tract functions destroyed following spinal cord injury (Figueroa, 2013).
DHA supplemented for 8 weeks in female Sprague-Dawley rats mediated the chronic pain present with SCI. They found that our Western diet may be hindering recovery from SCI, and that chronic DHA deficiency is associated with dysfunction following SCI (Figueroa, 2013). These research studies report that dietary prophylaxis with DHA results in distinctive improvements of nerve function that may facilitate functional recovery after SCI (Figueroa J,, 2013).

Human DHA Neuroprotective Findings:

In 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed that fish oil at levels up to 3 g/day were generally recognized as safe in the Federal Registry. At the same time, the FDA determined that fish oil up to 4 g/day was safe for cardiovascular therapy (FDA, 1997). In 1998, depression rates were found to be 50 times higher in countries with little seafood consumption (Hibbeln, 1998).

By 2005, Daily Reference Intakes did not yet provide for an Recommended Daily Allowance for DHA. Fish oil in the quality of 2g/d were shown to reduce suicidal tendencies, depression, and the perception of stress (Hallahan B,, 2007). In 2010, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines added increased seafood consumption to its recommendations.

In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published an extensive report entitled “Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury: Improving Acute and Subacute Health Outcomes in Military Personnel” which reviewed current literature on DHA and TBI. They reported that 80 percent of the fatty acids consumed in the U.S. were omega-6 or linoleic acids at a rate of 17g/day, and that while DHA is synthesized from alpha linoleic acid, only low amounts are produced (IOM, 2011). In animal studies, DHA was shown to have anti- inflammatory and neuroprotective activities in the brain and retina (IOM, 2011). Human studies showed that TBI patients would benefit by an inflammation reduction within 60 minutes of infusion (IOM, 2011). The IOM recommendation requests that more animal studies and human clinical trials be conducted. The conclusions further state that while intravenous fish oil formulations are available in Europe they have not yet been approved by the FDA in the U.S. The IOM recommends the early phase of severe TBI be provided with continuous enteral feeding with a formula containing fish oil (IOM, 2011).


This review is most significant in that is was formulated by the Institute of Medicine. While this is not original research, it is based upon original research of many research efforts which have received a positive rating from the IOM in that research reviewed has addressed issues of inclusion/exclusion bias, generalizability, and data collection and analysis. It is disappointing that 5 years post IOM report, the American Medical Society has not recommended the use of fish oil for TBI and the FDA has not published a position on the safety and efficacy of fish oil and TBI updating their 1997 declaration. While there have been remarkable case studies published demonstrating the efficacy of fish oil in severe TBI incidents, TBI is generally not treated with fish oil in the U.S..

Given the IOM call for additional human studies, a markedly higher rate of suicide among individuals who have suffered TBI as compared with the normal population has been demonstrated (Nowrangi, 2014). Dr. Michael D. Lewis and Dr. Joseph R. Hibbein of the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland sought to determine if deficiencies in DHA were associated with an increased risk of suicide among a large, random sample of military personnel (Lewis, 2011). In a retrospective study they assayed serum samples from 800 military personnel who had committed suicide with 800 controls randomly matched for age, collection date, sex, rank and year of incident with sera within 12 months of their matched case (Lewis, 2011). Samples were assayed for DHA composition by robotic direct methylation coupled with fast gas-liquid chromatography to account for possible degradation. Researchers found that there was no difference when comparing female controls with cases, however there was a 62% greater risk of suicide death among men with lower serum DHA levels (Lewis, 2011).

In evaluating this study by the Quality Research Checklist for Primary Research, this study was not free from bias in that more men committed suicide than women. Given the military’s high availability of data, inclusion criteria were specifically matched with controls. Criteria appeared to be applied equally. Health and demographics were carefully described. Subjects appear to be a representative sample of the relevant population. The population is some what unique in being all military. Study groups were remarkably comparable given the military’s high availability of data. This study was randomized with 800 cases and 800 controls. The distribution of disease status was similar across the study groups. Concurrent controls were utilized. This was a case control study and there was blind comparison. There were no interventions or therapeutic regimens. All procedures were compared in detail. An exposure factor may have been the age of the serum, but the military was careful to utilize cases and control serum with similar dates and ages to alleviate discrepancies. Outcomes were clearly defined, and measurements valid and reliable. State-of-the-art equipment and statistical analysis were available to the military. Their primary hypotheses of whether suicide would be related to lower DHA levels was confirmed.


In this military study, nutrition measures were appropriate to outcome. Observations and measurements were based upon standard, valid, and reliable data collection instruments/tests/procedures. Precision varied from p < 0.01 to p < 0.07 (Lewis, 2011). Other factors were accounted for and the measurements were not consistent across groups in that DHA levels did not vary among women. Overall, this study presents sufficient information to form a positive correlation between suicidal tendencies and low levels of DHA. This study does not show that DHA will prevent suicide, however in using 1600 subjects, randomized and blinded this is an important report. The psychological benefit of a diet including DHA is confirmed.

In 2013, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) published a position statement on concussions. The purpose of their statement was to provide physicians with a practice summary to manage sports concussions, and to identify the current level of information including knowledge gaps needing additional research. They expressed the need for competent physicians experienced with concussion management to provide care and issue return-to-play decisions. They defined concussion or mild TBI as a disturbance of brain function involving a complex pathophysiological process which is generally self-limited and considered a less severe brain injury (Harmon, 2013). Researchers estimated that 3.8 million concussions occur in the U.S. per year with half going unreported (Harmon, 2013). They expressed concern for repeat injuries prior to initial recovery, causing severe metabolic changes in brain tissue.

The AMSSM discussed diagnosis of concussion, evaluation, and management by a knowledgable healthcare provider. They indicated the sensitivity of baseline neurocognitive testing by health care professionals. However, the AMSSM states that most concussions can be managed without neurocognitive testing. Academic accommodations such as reduced workload and rest were recommended for students.

Concern was expressed for long term disease management and “neurological sequelae” (Harmon, 2013). Additional studies were requested to determine the long term effects of concussion. In preventing concussion, fair rules of play, helmets and legislative efforts were recommended (Harmon, 2013) In terms of future directions, the AMSSM requests further research in neurocognitive testing, assessment tools, improved imaging tools, and the identification of additional biological markers to provide new insight. (Harmon, 2013).

Given the publication of the IOM report of 2011 calling for the use of fish oil as treatment for acute TBI, the lack of AMSSM recommendations for research and clinical application of these therapeutics is disappointing. Instead of treating the condition, the AMSSM appears focused on improving diagnosis and imaging tools. Further, the AMSSM discounts neurocognitive testing. By 2013 baseline neurocognitive testing has become standard in many school and universities across the nation, whereby individual baseline test are compared with post concussion tests to determine return-to-play. These testing systems are managed by school and university athletic trainers, and have proved critical for concussion management. A more treatment oriented AMSSM report would have addressed the proficiency of the current level of neurocognitive testing and recommended additional usage. The purpose of this report was to identify knowledge gaps. Given the current evidence on DHA it seems important to present the current research findings, and to issue a call to the medical community for additional clinical testing. Hopefully, the grave risk of liability in the U.S. has not thwarted our ability to potentially ameliorate 96% of brain trauma.

In 2013, Dr. Linda Hasadri, of the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Rochester, Minnesota published a review of TBI DHA studies in the Journal of Neurotrauma. Her team reported that TBI is a global health risk and that nutritional interventions, such DHA, may provide a unique opportunity to repair brain tissue (Hasadri, 2013). While there have not been results of clinical trials evaluating the treatment of TBI with omega-3 fatty acids published, both animal and human studies have provided positive results (Hasadri, 2013). Chronic head injury may result in long term neurological disease including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, Post Traumatic Stress Disease, neurocognitive deficits, depression, and an inability to function (Hasadri, 2013). To improve outcomes, omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA, may be obtained from a diet heavy in cold water fish, algae and krill (Hasadri, 2013), free range meat, cage free eggs, and fortified infant formula.


The Hasadri teams describes DHA as the longest and most unsaturated fatty acid. DHA provides a tremendously flexible and versatile structure, playing a significant role in the function of the neural cell membrane, retina, and sodium potassium pump (Hasadri, 2013). Pro-apoptotic proteins are down regulated and anti-apoptotic proteins are up-regulated with therapy (Hasadri, 2013). Chronic deprivation of DHA leads to learning and memory deficits, and decreased function of cholinergic and dopamine pathways. Risks may exist in that DHA has an oxidation potential that could create a carcinogenic substance. A fishy odor and rancidity are possible. In addition, there is a high risk of exposure to mercury and environmental toxins, although the benefits currently outweigh the risks (Hasadri, 2013). The research team concludes that DHA restores cellular energetics, reduces oxidative stress and inflammation, repairs cellular damage, and mitigates the activation of apoptotic processes after TBI (Hasadri, 2013). They conclude that DHA may provide a unique, well tolerated, easy to administer opportunity to treat TBI (Hasadri, 2013). This is an elegant summary of current research which additionally discusses the opportunity to inexpensively and practically reduce the societal impact of TBI with fish oil.

In 2014, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a consumer health information publication entitled “Can a Dietary Supplement Treat a Concussion? No!”. This short report was apparently issued as a warning to companies and individuals.
The FDA reports that there is no scientific evidence that any supplements are safe and effective for preventing, treating or healing concussion (FDA, 2014). They state that no supplements exist that might allow athletes to return-to-play sooner than they are ready. They address the important need for patients to receive care from medical professions, that repeat injuries have a cumulative effect, and there may be substantial long-term neurological impact of concussions (FDA, 2014). The FDA sent warnings to physicians and companies selling products containing DHA supplements advertised as being beneficial for concussions. The FDA is calling these claims false and threatening legal action against any physician or company selling nutrients for this purpose.

In analyzing this report issued August, 2014 by the Federal Drug Administration, one wonders why the FDA failed to educate the consumer about rodent and human studies of distinguished researchers over the past decade, and more importantly, human research studies from the Institute of Medicine in 2011 and the U.S. Military calling for additional research and the use of fish oil with acute TBI. Instead, the FDA choose to


keep the consumer uneducated. In addition, they are thwarting attempts by physicians to further research and development of the important therapeutic use of a fatty acid which the FDA declared safe 20 years ago. It seems that the appropriate leadership role of the FDA should include educating physicians and consumers on the current status of fish oil research and promoting additional research for the benefit of the public it serves.

It is estimated that the cost of development and approval of a new drug is approximately $2.6B (Tufts, 2014), a percentage of which are fees collected by FDA from pharmaceutical companies. In issuing this negative report, perhaps the FDA is attempting to halt inexpensive public solutions from developing, thus allowing time for pharmaceutical companies to test prescription fish oil products requiring FDA approval and bringing profits to the FDA. As consumers await the actions of government bureaucracy, 3.8M consumers suffer concussion annually (AMSSM, 2013). In the meantime, consumers’ lack of information will cause them to bear the psychological and physiological burden of concussions, the long term neurological sequelae, increased health care premiums, and ultimately, the increased cost of purchasing FDA approved, prescription fish oil.

In 2014, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics issued a position paper on “Dietary Fatty Acids for Healthy Adults” they noted that Registered Dietitians are “uniquely positioned” to conduct research into dietary recommendations on fatty acids. The paper discusses fatty acid classifications and the need for 20-35% of the diet to be comprised of a variety of fatty acids. They discuss the structural importance of the double bonds in the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and present a table describing the intake allowances recommended by the various agencies. The paper discusses the sources of DHA as being from fatty fish, seafood, salmon, sardines, tuna, herring, trout, seal meat, and marine or algal sources (AND, 2014). Importantly they state that while DHA has not been labeled an essential oil, because of the potential conversion of alpha- linolenic acid (ALA) to DHA, less than 1% of ALA reliably converts to DHA (Davis, 2003)(Burdge, 2004). DHA modulates inflammation and is neuroprotective. Supplements are made from fish oils such as anchovy, salmon, cod liver, krill and squid oils (AND, 2014). Up to 3g/day was generally recognized as safe by the FDA in 1997. Vegetarian sources of algae are available and genetically engineered supplements are being developed. The Academy’s position states the mean daily intake of DHA was


80mg for men and 60mg for women (AND, 2014) far below the recommended research dosages. Multiple agencies, including the American Psychiatric Association, do recommend fish twice a week for an average 450 to 500 mg of EPA and DHA per day (AND, 2014), stating that lower levels of DHA have been observed in individuals with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease (AND, 2014). The Academy’s Evidence Analysis Library examined 14 studies, whereupon 6 of these studies showed DHA demonstrated a decreased risk of cognitive decline (AND, 2014).

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics could be a controlling influence in the advancement of fatty acids as a major neurological and cardiovascular protectant by promoting research and dietary recommendations to dietitians to encompass this safe and effective food supplement in the scope of their practice. Thus far, only the American Psychiatric Association is willing to recommend 450mg to 500mg per day of DHA. The American Medical Society currently lacks the scope and educational background. However, once supplements become regulated, the pharmaceutical companies and physicians will control their benefits through less nutrient based drug compounds. Consumer will loose access to these nutrients and the cost of nutrient based drug compounds will skyrocket. The opportunity for dietitians to control fish oil and other supplements in nutrient form exists now. Consumers will reap the health benefits of pure biochemistry based nutrient supplements vs. pharmaceutical drug, non- nutrient interventions, and the scope of dietitians to heal through biochemistry will expand exponentially.

The military is seeing the benefits of fish oil to heal their traumatized soldiers. In the November 2014 issue of Military Medicine, Julian Bailes MD and Vimal Patel PhD report that “our knowledge of the pathophysiology of cerebral concussion has undertaken significant advances in the last decade.” Military have a higher risk of repetitive injury due to explosive devices, resulting in a “unprecedented rate of non- penetrating head injury” (Bailes and Patel, 2014). Mitigation or prevention can be accomplished through DHA improving the neuroprotective effect when high doses (40 mg/kg) are given (Bailes and Patel, 2014).

In this review, Bailes and Patel explain the more recently recognized damage caused by TBI including the build up of tau protein, neurofibrillary tangles, and the long term development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (Bailes and Patel, 2014). They describe how the highly flexible, long chain DHA fatty acid creates thin phospholipids


which pack well within the cell membrane, creating a more permeable phospholipid more suitable to membrane proteins, transport, signaling, and enzymes. They re-iterate that DHA decreases b-amyloid plaque buildup, reduces neuronal apoptosis, and may act as a prophylactic against cerebral concussion (Bailes and Patel, 2014). They recognize that the U.S. FDA designated DHA as Generally Recognized as Safe in 1997 (FDA, 1997).

In concluding, Bailes and Patel discuss the availability of DHA from fatty fish or algae sources and the potential presence of mercury. They recognize that given the safety profile, general health benefits, purity, availability and affordability of DHA, both our athletes and military populations, with high exposure to repetitive brain impacts, are at risk without adequate DHA (Bailes and Patel, 2014).


DHA has been demonstrated to have a role in TBI recovery. The current state of DHA literature is primarily based upon animal models although, the military has initiated human studies. There are several clinical trials of DHA for TBI in progress. DHA has a strong safety profile and is a promising therapy. Intake recommendations range from 250 mg/d to 500 mg/d while current dietary recommendations are less than half that at 90-120mg/d (Barrett, 2014). Rat studies have shown efficacy at a mean human intake of 387 mg/d of DHA (Barrett EC, 2014). Given these studies, timing would be excellent for AND, AMA, and FDA to evaluate adequate DHA intake levels and educate their professionals as to the benefits of DHA. Legal agencies might lessen the liability risk of


initiating TBI therapy. Organizational and legislative agencies entrusted with health care planning and protection might better serve the public by increasing awareness and availability of these beneficial findings. Our military, athletes, and scholars would benefit most from this information to protect their brain function, thereby decreasing the mental healthcare burden placed upon society in terms of excessive costs and loss of lives.

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Adrenal Tremor, Parkinson’s Disease and the Wheat Free Diet


This is a Case Study of a 13 y/o boy who was raised on a wheat free diet (WFD) since age 4.  As an infant,  he  experienced monthly ear infections and was placed on prophylactic antibiotic therapy.  His pre-school years were mired with monthly strep throat infections. Occasionally, he had concurrent small red blotches, indicative of rheumatic fever, on his  torso.  A tonsillectomy was recommended by his pediatrician.

He began a WFD at age 4, the strep throat infections ceased …. unless he ingested wheat without antihistamine prophylaxis. Occasionally, he ate a piece of wheat pizza at school without a immediate anti-histamine.  Subsequent strep throat infections would ensue resulting in swollen cervical lymph nodes, a flushed face, swollen, red and pussy tonsils, but no fever.  All infections presented similarly, however not all tested positive for strep.   This condition was treated with antibiotics and resolved in a few days.  (Please see the post on “Keep the Tonsils, Pull the Strep Throat”).

As a pre-schooler,  the boy had wound healing difficulties.  During his middle school years, he experienced anxiety, fatigue, a lack of physical maturation, restless legs, painful joints, middle belly weight, athlete’s foot, and a slightly curved back.

At age 13, he ate two pieces of wheat pizza without antihistamine prophylaxis.  In the days following, his face flushed intensely, cervical lymph nodes swelled, but no fever was present.  His back was painful at the level of his adrenals. He experienced extreme fatigue, his eyes were sensitive to light, and he had a tremor.  The tremor traveled down his spine and caused his fingers to vibrate.  He was started on his standard Azithromycin antibiotic therapy. However, the condition did not resolve.

Within a couple days he “crashed“.  He had sufficient energy to be active for a couple of hours in the morning and then he lived on the couch for the remainder of the day.  He headed for bed shortly after dinner. Any form of stress intensified the tremor including homework or attending school.  He was started on a second antibiotic.

Differentials considered included infection, PANDAS, serotonin syndrome, and depression.  Medical personnel questioned whether he was avoiding school.  Blood panels were negative.  EEG was negative.  He was prescribed Zoloft to control the tremor.  This drug made him sick and was discontinued.

One month later, a naturopathic physician identified the boy’s flushed face as being caused by adrenal problems.  Through intracellular saliva testing, he was found to be adrenal insufficient.  The flashlight adrenal insufficiency test was positive.  To support his adrenals he began began a supplemental therapy of vitamin C (1000mg/day), B complex (200mg/day), adrenal cortical extract, minerals, vitamin A, CoQ10, vitamin E, spirulina, quercetin, a probiotic, 1g/day of omega-3 fish oil (DHA+EPA) and 1000mg/day of calcium citrate.  His energy levels gradually improved but the tremor continued.

Sugar, high fructose corn syrup, caffeinated drinks, and deep fried, greasy foods harmful to his adrenals were removed from his diet.  The high levels of fruit juice previously consumed were replaced with low, no sugar, or sugar substitute  juices.

It was determined that wheat contains methionine, lysine and threonine.  Methionine controls the hypophyseal-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and is involved with cardiac rhythm.   Lysine is found in collagen thus supports wound heading and dental pulp formation. Threonine supports tooth enamel formation. Hypothesizing that the patient was deficient in these amino acids due to his WFD,  he was started on 1500mg/day of methionine and 1000mg/day of lysine. The boy craved red meat and eggs.  His diet was modified to include methionine containing foods such as brown rice, oranges, additional red meat, eggs, nuts, spinach, onions, peas, yogurt, and popcorn.  Within a week, the boy had regained sufficient energy to work on small hobbies.

Within a month, he began to experience some quick, sharp chest pain.  Methionine is stored in the heart.  The methionine dosage was reduced to 1,000mg/day.  Although he had more energy and felt better, the facial flushing, swollen lymph glands, fatigue, back adrenal pain, and tremor continued.

A urine amino acid profile showed the boy’s methionine level (with supplementation) in low normal range.  Also in low normal range were phosphoserine, taurine, phosphoethanolamine, aspartic acid, hydroxyproline, serine, asparagine, alanine, tryptophan, carnosine, and anserine.   Some success has been found with taurine in relieving tremor.  He was given a trial of 1000mg/day of taurine.  His energy levels increased, however evening doses made it difficult to sleep and there was no improvement in the tremor.

Repeat urine and blood amino acid profiles showed phosphoserine as the only amino acid below normal range.  The patient was supplemented with 1,000mg/day of serine.  One week post therapy, he developed a skin rash on his arms and legs.  Serine therapy was discontinued then reduced to 500mg/twice each week.  The tremor persisted.

Next, the physiological function of each of these amino acids was addressed in relation to the patient’s signs/symptoms.  Proline was found to be a critical component of cartilage and important to joint structure.  Proline works with vitamin C in this capacity and can be synthesized by glutamic acid.  Arginine was important in wound healing, the production and release of growth hormone, insulin, and glucagon release, collagen synthesis, and GABA production. Arginine can be produced from glutamic acid or proline.  Glycine was critical to GABA neurotransmitter and energy production. GABA was important to inhibitory nerve function. Tyrosine was important to the production of neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and melanin.  This patient’s grandfather had Parkinson’s Disease which involves low neurotransmitter levels in the Tyrosine – Dopamine Pathway.

Hypothesizing that the boy’s current amino acid levels may not be sufficient for the age dependent physical growth, adrenal stress due to methionine deficiency, and adrenal stress due to the wheat hypersensitivity reaction, this patient was additionally supplemented with 1500mg/day glutamine,  1500mg/day glycine, and 1000 mg/day tyrosine.  After one week of therapy,  the tremor was alleviated and would resume only  under stressful conditions.

After several months, the individual dosages of amino acids were replaced with a 750mg amino acid complex capsule, three times each day. The patient continued to improve.  This complex differed from ingesting protein rich foods in that all 20 amino acids were given concurrently through the complex.  All 20 amino acids must be present concurrently for  protein synthesis to occur.  Supplementation of the 20 amino acid complex relieved the tremor whereas his protein rich diet did not.

The patient returned to school six months post amino acid therapy initiation with improved physical activity levels, reduced anxiety, and alleviation of restless legs.  The daily tremor was absent except under stressful conditions.  His night time activities were kept to a minimum to ensure sufficient rest.

In subsequent years, he remained on 1500 mg/day amino acid complex, 1 gram of DHA+EPA omega-3 fish oil, B complex 100mg/day, vitamin C 1000mg/day, bovine adrenal cortex 340 mg/day, calcium 1000mg/day,  lysine 500mg/day, choline 500mg/day, 5-HTP 100mg/day, probiotic, and minerals.  It appeared that minimal amounts of these supplements are required to maintain good health.

Six years post presentation, this patient continues with occasional stress and fatigue. This is typically visible as facial flushing on the outer periphery of his cheeks.  The tremor has been alleviated under normal and stress conditions.  This patient continues on a WFD and ingests no wheat.  He ingests minimal sugar and deep fried foods, and no caffeine.  Accidental wheat ingestion receives immediate antihistamine and aspirin prophylaxis. The patient is careful to obtain sufficient rest, take supplements, and eat healthy food.  His back continues to be hunched causing him back, neck, and knee pain, but is otherwise most healthy.


Copyright © 2013.  All rights reserved.

Photograph: 8 week old dobie pup

Disclaimer:  The ERB is a literature research team presenting the findings of other researchers. The ERB is not licensed medical nor dietary clinicians and will not give medical nor dietary advice.   Any information presented on this website should not be substituted for the advice of a licensed physician or nutritionist.  Users of this website accept the sole responsibility to conduct their own due diligence on topics presented and to consult licensed medical professionals to review their material.  We make no warranties or representations on the information presented and should users utilize this research without consulting a professional, they assume all responsibility for their actions and the consequences.

Concussion (mild TBI) Brain Food: A Review of Fish Oil, B-Complex and Protein (Amino Acid) Therapies

Concussion (mild Traumatic Brain Injury) Brain Food Treatment Research Summary:  Research shows that fish oil supplements if supplied before or after brain trauma aid in protecting cell membrane from damage and death. The Institute of Medicine research report shows that by immediately providing sufficient protein to brain damaged victims, mortality rates and Second Injury (damage surrounding the initial injury) can be significantly reduced.  Protein builds DNA, cell structures, and neurotransmitters. Researchers have found that Bcomplex vitamins are critical to maintaining reactions involved in the production of red blood cells, cell membrane, the myelin coating surrounding nerves fibers, and neurotransmitter production, making B-complex vitamins vital for nerve communication and brain function.   This report reviews these findings to encourage further evaluation and testing.  Home laboratory testing to monitor these nutrient levels should be evaluated.

High School Soccer Player Concussion Case Study:

As he jumped into the air, the soccer player was struck on the back of the head (posterior parietal, right side). He fell to the ground and lost consciousness for 10 – 15 seconds.  Afterwards, he felt normal and returned to play for 40 minutes. The next morning, the back of his head was swollen.  He described the pain as a “bad migraine”. The subject was lethargic and bright lights made him nauseous.  He experienced no balance nor vision problems.  Quick movements intensified his headache. He did not attend school, as it was difficult to concentrate, read, write, or spell.  He had memory difficulties. Bright light caused dizziness and irritated his headache.  He experienced no improvement of his condition during the first two weeks.

The third week post concussion, the subject began taking Fish Oil (600mg DHA+EPA, twice daily), B-complex (100mg/twice daily) , and Amino Acids (750mg/twice daily).  Feeling better, he attempted to attend school, but found himself “fading out”. At his physician’s office, he was unable to memorize colors or spell simple words.  Swelling was identified on the right side of his parietal lobe and left side of his frontal lobe.  He returned to school several days later for a few hours. He was unable to complete homework.  The third week he attended school part-time and on the fourth week, he attended full time. He felt “fairly normal”, however, continued to have difficulties with bright lights and could not recall elementary school memories.  He discontinued the vitamins at the end of the fourth week.

One year later, the subject suffered a minor concussion as the front of his head (right frontal lobe) struck a goal post.  His pupils were dilated.  He could remember colors and spell however, he was dizzy in bright light.  He discontinued play, but did not consider this event as serious as the previous. He took the vitamins for a few days and felt better.  The following year, he again hit his head during soccer season and took the vitamins for a couple days.

Since most concussions improve about the third to fourth week, it is difficult to determine whether fish oil, b-complex, and amino acids shortened recovery time. The subject believes that the improvements began with the vitamins.  He states that upon taking the vitamins, he felt like returning to school. Additional research would be more valuable should baseline, post concussion, and post treatment neurocognitive testing be completed with control and test groups.

Concussion – mild Traumatic Brain Injury Discussion:

The human brain is about the size of a cauliflower head with the density of medium soft cheese and can be easily sectioned with a spatula. The brain stem protrudes from the posterior-inferior surface sending commands up and down pathways and through relay centers to the pinky-sized spinal cord. The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by clear cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and membranes which provide a shock absorber-like environment internal to the bony cranium and vertebrae.

When the cushion environment is disrupted by an “external mechanical force such as rapid acceleration or deceleration, impact, blast waves, or penetration by a projectile” (Maas AI, et al., 2008), a traumatic brain injury (TBI) results.  A mild TBI is referred to as a concussion.

TBIs are the leading cause of death/disability worldwide  (Alves OL, et al., 2001) and the number one cause of coma (Farag E, et al., 2011).   One third of TBI fatalities are firearm accidents (75% suicide) and another third are motor vehicle accidents (Leon-Carrion J,, 2005). A total of 1.5 million people experience head trauma each year in the U.S. resulting in an annual cost exceeding $5.6 billion.  While most head injuries are mild (Cassidy JD, et al., 2004), the death rate to TBI is estimated at 21% by 30 days post injury (Greenwood, et al, 2003). The greatest number of TBIs occur in the male 15-24 age group (Hardman JM, et al., 2002) (Mass AI, et al., 2008). Sport and recreational activities in the U.S. alone may cause between 1.6 – 3.8 million TBIs each year (CDCP, 2007).  In addition, the military has seen a significant increase in TBIs. Approximately, 10-20% of veterans returning from the Middle East have experienced a TBI. The Department of Defense is conducting research to reduce the serious problems associated with these injuries and has requested a report from the Institute of Medicine (2011).

Clinically, a mild TBI or concussion is defined as post-traumatic amnesia of less than one day and a loss of consciousness between 0 -30 minutes (DOD TBI Task Force).  Symptoms include “headache, vomiting, nausea, lack of motor coordination, dizziness, and difficulty balancing” (Kushner D, 1998) along with “lightheadedness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ear, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue or lethargy, and changes in sleep patterns.  Cognitive and emotional symptoms include behavioral or mood changes, confusion, and trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking” (NINDS, 2008). Social behavior or emotional problems may also occur. Damage to the left side of the brain may involve speech, reading and writing difficulties.  Damage to the back of the brain may involve vision, balance, and coordination problems.

Current diagnostic techniques include neurological exam and neuro-imaging studies such as CT (CAT scan) or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).  CT scans are quickly completed in an emergency department. They are less expensive and better at showing bleeds than MRI  however, brain CT delivers a 1-2 millisievert dose of radiation.   MRI, which utilizes a magnetic field,  (no radiation exposure), delivers more detail of the brain and brain stem, but it is more time consuming and costly.  A CT of a more serious TBI may show hemorrhage, skull fracture, contusions (bruising), fracture, and/or edema (swelling).  An MRI of a more serious TBI, might show a shifting of brain structures, contusion, and hematoma. When blood exerts pressure upon the brain surface it can impair brain function. Interestingly, when brain tissue is seriously injured,  it appears to be cracked open on MRI, much like the appearance of a sponge that is torn open every 1-2 inches. The tears create fluid inlets, perhaps designed to bring nutrient rich CSF to the damaged areas.

A mild TBI or concussion will often show little damage on CT or MRI neuro-imaging studies, thus the increasing use of imPACT or CNS Vital Signs neurocognitive testing.  These computerized tests  have been more effective at assessing mild concussive damage by evaluating general mental functioning. To date, many athletic programs have been using them to compare pre and post injury results to determine ‘return to play’. Since they measure brain function in terms of verbal and visual memory, processing speed, reaction time, attention span, and non-verbal problem solving capabilities, neurocognitive testing has been successfully utilized to identify emotional and cognitive deficits related to mild TBIs.

When the brain is damaged, it immediately begins self repair. Raw materials are sought from nutrients in the blood supply and from CSF to rebuild the initial injury site.  When nutrient supply is insufficient, surrounding brain tissue may be broken down to supply substrate for reconstruction.

Damage apparent in adjacent tissue, has been defined as Second Injury and may result in more serious injury than the initial TBI (Park E, et al., 2008). When death results weeks later, it is typically caused by secondary damage (Ghajar J, 2000). In the past, this Second Injury has been commonplace and no therapy has been available to stop progression (Park E, et al., 2008). However, recent military studies found that by immediately supplying sufficient amounts of protein to the injured patient, Secondary Injury is significantly reduced (Institute of Medicine, 2011).  Providing omega-3 essential fatty acids (DHA/EPA) before injury or immediately after injury also reduces TBI damage (Mills JD, et al., 2011) (Wu A, et al., 2007).

Brain injury brings immune cells and fluids to the injury site, resulting in inflammation, but with the brain enclosed in the cranium there is minimal space to accommodate swelling.  The resultant increase in intracranial pressure may occlude blood vessels responsible for bringing oxygen and nutrients to brain cells and lymph vessels responsible for removing waste products (Scalea TM, 2005). Increased pressure can force the brain to herniate into spaces where it does not belong.  This renders the tissue non-functional and eventually will cause death.  A variety of anti-inflammatory medications are often utilized to diminish swelling.

Mild TBIs physically appear to resolve in 3 weeks and patients tend to return to normal activities.  Some patients have “physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral problems such as headaches, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, and depression” (Parik S et al., 2007). Movement disorders, seizures, and substance abuse may also develop (Arlinghaus KA, et al., 2005). Depending upon the severity of the injury, the number of repeat injuries and the presence of adequate nutrients before and after the injury, the prognosis ranges from complete recovery to permanent disability, neurological disease or death. “Permanent disability is thought to occur in 10% of mild TBIs, 66% of moderate injuries, and 100% of severe injuries” (Frey LC, 2003). In many situations, particularly athletics, a second concussion may occur before the first concussion has healed.  This is of particular concern as multiple TBIs may have a cumulative effect (Kwasnica C, et al., 2008).

Brain Biochemistry:

As discussed in ‘The ERB Vision for Wellness‘ tab on this website, Dr. James Watson of Watson and Crick, the scientists who discovered the DNA double helix, tells us that to eliminate disease we must return to Biochemistry.  We expect that the many dedicated researchers referenced below would agree.  They have found that in Traumatic Brain Injury, nutrition matters.  Adequate supplies of the major tissue nutrients are critical.

In looking at a section of brain tissue, the lighter tan colored structures are called “white matter.” White matter consists of nerve fiber tracts or pathways traveling in both directions to and from the brain through the brainstem down the spinal cord and extending out to organs, arms, and legs.  A nerve can be up to four feet long. White matter nerve tissue is composed of essential fatty acids called omega-3s such as DHA (docosahexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid).  Most nerve tissue contains a myelin coating.  The resistance created by this coating allows for impulse transmission at approximately 100m/sec ( 245 mph)! Nerve and myelin formation require B-complex vitamins.  The darker structures on a brain section are called  “gray matter.”  These are decision-making nuclei made from proteins composed of amino acid building blocks.  Proteins and amino acids formulate all structures, most noticeable of which are neurotransmitters.  Neurotransmitters are critical to brain function and communication throughout the body.

Essential Fatty Acids (DHA and EPA):

40% of brain tissue is essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA).   While EPA provides important anti-inflammatory actions (Sears B, 2011) and is included in supplements, 97% of the brain’s essential fatty acids are the 22 carbon chain,  Docosahexanoic Acid (DHA).  DHA is found in foods such as walnuts (ALA), microalgae, microplants, cod, salmon, mackerel, sardines, hake, caviar, herring, oysters, organ meats (liver), grass fed and finished beef, and fish oil or algae supplements.  Fish receive DHA from ocean phytoplankton (microalgae or microplants).  Cattle receive DHA from grass.  However, as we increasingly draw our food from farm-raised fish and grain-raised cattle, our dietary intake of DHA is being depleted, (Abel R, 2002).

Most humans consume an overabundance of vegetable oil and butters which contain no double bonds in their carbon chains.  DHA has six double bonds (22:6), one at every third carbon (omega-3 or n-3). In cell membrane, these double bonds allow the fatty acid to neutralize damaging free radicals.  In addition, the double bonds increase the fluidity properties of cell membrane which helps to protect the cell from trauma and cell death (apoptosis) (Eckert GP, et al., 2011). Proper cell communication and signaling is critical for brain function. Fifty percent of nerve cell plasma membrane is DHA (Collins C, et al., 2002) which is important in cell communication, neuronal survival, and growth.  DHA is found in three cell membrane phospholipids:  phosphytidylethnolamine, ethnolamine plasmalogens, and phosphatidylserine. Upon injury, these phospholipid pools are important reservoirs to reconstruct cell membrane (Chang CY, et al., 2009).  In the absence of dietary DHA, the brain will improvise and construct brain tissue from vegetable oil.  However, under traumatic conditions  vegetable oil fed rat brain falls apart, (Eckert  GP, et al., 2011) (Abel R, 2002).

Researchers found that in rats subject to TBI which then received 40mg/kg/day pharmaceutical grade fish oil rich in DHA and EPA for 30 days post TBI had more healthy nerve cells.  Essential fatty  acids  were shown  to be neuroprotective by reducing  the  number of  injured nerve axons, decreasing the level of inflammation,  and reducing oxidative stress and cell death (Mills JD et al., 2011). DHA fed to rats immediately post TBI was found to counteract cognitive decay, maintain membrane signaling function, and support the potential of DHA supplementation to reduce the effects of TBI. (Wu A, 2011).  In addition, essential fatty acids DHA and EPA given to rats 4 weeks prior to TBI was found to help maintain brain homeostasis and reduce oxidative damage due to TBI (Wu A, et al., 2007). 

DHA and EPA have been found to improve the outcome of stroke studies of both rat and human models (Kong W, (Hagiwara H,  Few human studies have been conducted using DHA as prophylaxis for TBI.  In 2006, 20 grams per day of omega-3 fish oil (CNN, 2012)  and hyperbaric oxygen treatment were used by Dr. Julian Bailes to treat the sole survivor of the West Virginia mining disaster, Randal McCloy, who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning. This patient now claims that his brain function is near normal.  Dr. Bailes and his colleagues have since published many research papers demonstrating the benefits of essential fatty acids and fish oil supplements.  In addition, “individual case reports using fish oil doses of 2-4 grams per day have been described, however sufficient human research is unavailable to recommend dosages”  (Maroon, JC and Bost J, 2011).

One new human case study was published in October 2012, when Peter Ghassemi convinced physicians to give his son Bobby, who was in a coma following a motor vehicle accident, omega-3 fish oil ( a similar dose to Randal McCloy).  Bobby  had a Glasgow Coma Score of 3 (scale 3 – 15), which Dr. Michael Lewis says that “a brick or piece of wood has a Glasgow Coma Score of 3. It’s dead.”  Peter Ghassemi, Bobby’s father, indicates that it was difficult to convince physicians to give their son fish oil.  They wanted to see 1000 case studies first, to prove its efficacy.  Eventually, physicians agreed.  Thanks to his father’s perserverance, Bobby has recovered today.  U.S. Army Colonel Lewis who recommended the therapy to Peter Ghassemi describes the therapy like this.  “If you have a brick wall and it gets damaged, wouldn’t you want to use bricks to repair the wall?  And omega-3 fatty acids are literally the bricks of the cell wall of the brain.”  (CNN,2012)

The textbook “Contemporary Nutrition” written by  Gordon M. Wardlaw and Anne M. Smith in 2013 tells us that EPA and DHA are slowly synthesized in the brain from alpha linoleic acid and can be found in “fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies, striped bass, catfish, herring, mackerel, trout or halibut “(listed highest to lowest omega-3 content) and in foods such as “canola and soybean oils, walnuts, flax seeds, mussels, crab and shrimp”.  The authors warn about high mercury levels in swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and albacore, and indicate that fish with low mercury levels include salmon, sardines, bluefish, herring and shrimp.  Eating fish twice each week is recommended.  Omega-3 fatty acids tend to act to reduce blood clotting and inflammation, while omega-6 foods tend to increase clotting and inflammation.  Vitamin K and calcium carbonate are also involved in the clotting process. “Fish oil capsules should be limited for individuals who have bleeding disorders, take anticoagulant medications, or anticipate surgery, because they may increase risk of uncontrollable bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke”.

Wardlaw and Smith recommend 1.6 grams per day of omega-3 fatty acids for men and 1.1 grams per day for women.  Elevated blood triglycerides are treated with 2 to 4 grams per day.  Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to reduce the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis and help with behavioral disorders and cases of mild depression.  Freezing fish oil capsules helps to reduces the fishy after taste.  “2 tablespoons of flax seed per day is typically recommended as an omega-3 fatty acid source”.  Approximately 3 walnuts (6 halves) yields approximatley 1 gram of DHA.  Care should be taken to keep DHA sources refrigerated as they turn rancid easily.  For TBI patients on IV feeding it is important to investigate the quantity of DHA and EPA present in total parenteral nutrition.  One researcher takes approximately 1 gram of DHA/EPA through fish oil daily and regulates intake by the dryness/moistness of the skin.  In drier climates, she finds this daily intake amount must be doubled.  Mercury consumption in fish oil is a serious risk and mercury free alternatives should be explored.

More human studies are needed to establish the benefits/risks of DHA and EPA with TBI. Eventually these will come however, the bureaucracy is heavy, and the cost estimates of bringing a new drug to market varies from $500 million to $2 billion (Adams C, et al., 2006) (JHE, 2010). A bottle of fish oil, with a small profit margin, may not provide sufficient return on investment to entice investigation.  One subject with a fish oil allergy could mire the researching organization in million dollar legal proceedings for years to come. That said,  research studies are important for physicians to have as legal and medical support for their recommendations.  Given this climate, many individuals and their health care providers have taken on the responsibility to evaluate whether  fish oil supplements are a safe and worthwhile benefit or a risk addition to their diet.  By 2020, we expect clinicians and individual to measure and maintain their optimum DHA/EPA levels.

B Complex Vitamins:

Vitamin B is a vitamin complex  of B-1-thiamine, B-2 riboflavin, B-3 niacin, B-5 pantothenic acid, B-6 pyridoxine, B-9 folate, B12-cobalamin.  B complex vitamins are important for nerve, DNA and neurotransmitter synthesis,  and for cell energy production and metabolism.  The majority of the information cited below regarding the effects of B complex vitamins on brain function has been obtained from animal studies.

Thiamine (B1):

  • Required for red blood cells to carry oxygen (Combs GF Jr, et al., 2008)
  • Acetylcholine neurotransmitter production(Butterworth RF, et al., 2006)
  • Myelin synthesis in nerve cells (Butterworth RF, et al., 2006)
  • High school female RDA 1.0 mg/day, male 1.2 mg/day.
  • Adult RDA is 1.1 – 1.2 mg/day, Daily Value 1.5 mg/day, no upper limit set because water soluble and rapidly lost in urine, alcohol consumption reduces thiamin levels (Wardlaw,, 2013)
Riboflavin (B2):
  • A component in all flavoproteins and  red blood cells (erythrocytes)
  • Reduced TBI lesions, edema, and improved outcome (Hoane MR, et al., 2005)
  • High school female RDA 1.0 mg/day, male 1.3 mg/day.
  • Adult RDA is 1.1 – 1.3 mg/day, Daily Value 1.7 mg/day, no upper limit set.  Alcohol consumption reduces riboflavin levels (Wardlaw,, 2013)

Niacin (B3):

  • Involved in DNA repair, cholesterol, and energy production
  • Helps produce neurotransmitters in the adrenal gland
  • Reduces TBI lesion size and improves sensory, motor, cognitive, and behavioral recovery (Voner Haar C, 2011)
  • High school female RDA 14 mg/day, male 16 mg/day.
  • Adult RDA is 14 – 16 mg/day, Daily Value is 20 mg/day, upper limit is 35mg/day of nicotinic acid form. Alcohol consumption reduces niacin levels (Wardlaw,, 2013)

Pantothenic Acid (B5)

  • Neurotransmitter acetylcholine production
  • Involved in signal transduction, and enzyme control
  • High school female and male 5 mg/day.
  • Adult Adequate Intake is 5 mg/day, Daily Value is 10 mg, no upper limit set (Wardlaw, et. al, 2013).

Pyridoxal Phosphate (B6):

  • Controls all amino acid metabolism  (Sahley BJ, 2002)
  • Red blood  cell and  antibody formation (Sahley BJ, 2002)
  • Dopamine and GABA neurotransmitter production
  • Nerve myelin sheath phospholipid production
  • High school RDA female 1.2 mg/day, male 1.3 mg/day.
  • Adult RDA is 1.3 – 1.7 mg/day, Daily Value is 2 mg, Upper Level is 100 mg/day based upon nerve damage.  Studies have shown that 2 – 6 grams/day of B-6 for 2 or more months can lead to irreversible nerve damage.  Symptoms of toxicity include walking difficulties and hand and foot numbness (Wardlaw, et. al, 2013)

Folate  (B9):

  • Required to synthesize, repair, and methylate DNA.
  • Provides neuroprotection in TBI (Naim MY, et al., 2010)
  • Important in rapid cell division and growth.
  • Production of healthy red blood cells and anemia prevention
  • Forms cell membrane phospholipids and receptors (Karakula H, et al.,2009) (Surtees R, 1998)
  • Prevents nerve damage and neural tube defects during development
  • Required for myelin regeneration (van Rensburg SJ, et al., 2006) (Guettat L, et al., 1997)
  • High school RDA female and male 400 mcg/day.
  • Adult RDA and Daily Value is 400 mcg/day,  pregnant women 600mcg/day  (important to prevent neural tube defects), Upper Level is 1 mg/day alcoholism and poor absorption reduces folate levels (Wardlaw,, 2013)

Cobalamin (B12):

  •  Involved in blood formation.
  • Critical to DNA synthesis through folate regeneration
  • Formation of cell membrane phospholipids and receptors (Karakula H, et al., 2009) (Surtees R, 1998)
  • B12 supplementation partially resolved cognitive deficits and myelin imaging abnormalities (Chatterjee A,, 1996) (Jongen JC, et al., 2001)
  • Improves cerebral and cognitive functions.  (Bourre JM, 2006)
  • Required for myelin synthesis (Hall CA, 1990) (van Rensburg SJ, et al, 2006) (Guettat L, et al., 1997)
  • Promotes nerve regeneration (Okada K, et al., 2010)
  • High school RDA female and male 2.4 mcg/day.
  • RDA is 2.4 mcg/day, Daily Value is 6 mcg/day, no Upper Limit set, stored in liver, 50% of dietary intake may be absorbed.  Nerve damage and anemia may result from insufficient intake.

There are 150mg time release (9-10 hours) capsules available for B complex.  All  B vitamins are water soluble and need to be replenished daily.  Vitamin B complex has an important  role  in  alleviating anxiety and lactic acid buildup.  Dietary supply may be inadequate under stress (Sahley BJ, 2002).

Protein (Amino Acids):

Linear chains of amino acids form proteins. Proteins produce nuclei in the brain, DNA,  cell membrane, enzymes, and neurotransmitters. Twenty amino acids are commonly identified.  All 20 amino acids need to present concurrently for protein synthesis to occur.  A problem may be that most foods do not provide all 20 amino acids concurrently as is provided by a 20 amino acid complex supplement.  More research needs to be completed on this topic.

Alanine – Precursor of neurotransmitter dopamine (Coxon KM, et al., 2005)

Arginine – Through agmantine, it is neuroprotective in trauma and ischemia models by significantly reducing  brain swelling volume and blood-brain barrier protection (Kim JH, et al., 2009)

Cysteine – Forms DNA double helix disulfide bonds

Glutamate – Important for calcium ion binding; may reduce blood glucose levels in the injured spinal cord reducing neurological impairment (Zhang TL, et al., 2010)

Glutathione – Critical to relieve oxidative stress in cells

Glycine – Important in red blood cell formation (Shemin D, et al., 1946); gives amino acid structures flexibility

Histidine – Used throughout the brain;  improves TBI outcome (Faden AI, et al., 1993) (Krusong K, et al., 2011)

Lysine – Important for connective tissue maintenance, and affects protein binding to phospholipid membranes (Blenis J, et al., 1993)

Methionine – The sole methyl donor in the central nervous system; increases S-adenylmethionine (SAMe) in CSF aiding in neurological disorder treatment (Chishty M, et al., 2002); forms Glutathione, important in reducing free radical-mediated traumatic injury  (Gidday JM, et al., 1999)

Phenylalanine – Produces chlorophenylalanine (CPA) which slowed the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier permeability, brain edema and blood flow; reduced the number of damaged and distorted nerve cells (Sharma HS, et al., 2000).

Proline – Maintains connective tissue (Bhattacharjee A, et al., 2005)

Serine – Acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain (Wolosker H, et al., 2008)

Taurine – Major component of brain tissue and muscle (Brosnan JT, 2006)

Threonine – A component of the serine/threonine kinase; neuroprotective following traumatic brain injury (Erlich S, et al.,2007)

Tryptophan – Precursor to neurotransmitter serotonin (Savelieva KV, et al., 2008); a modulator of serotonin which alters plasticity-related signaling pathways and matrix degradation (Penedo LA, et al., 2009)

Tyrosine – Precursor of the neurotransmitter dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine

Under prolonged stress or illness the body is unable to produce sufficient non-essential amino acids (Sahley BJ, 2002).  Trauma has been found to damage DNA and RNA, and to deplete neurotransmitters.  Neurological dysfunction is caused by traumatic brain injury (Cole J, et al., 2010

As amino acids are utilized for energy and substrate, they are oxidized to urea and carbon dioxide producing high levels of glutamate.  These high levels seen in the TBI patient can include oxidation of branched chained amino acids. Dietary consumption of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) restored BCAA concentrations to normal, improved nerve cell communication, and reinstated cognitive performance after concussive brain injury (Cole J, et al., 2010). BCAAs and amino acid complex (protein) are available at nutrition stores.

The Institute of Medicine committee report of April 20, 2011 on Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury: Improving Acute and Subacute Health Outcomes in Military Personnel   found that supplying high levels of protein to the TBI patient within the first 24 hours severely reduced mortality.  This report calls for standardized protocols to require  a level of nutrition that represents more than 50 percent of the injured person’s total energy expenditure and provide 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for two weeks. They expect this nutritional intervention limits the inflammatory response, thereby improving outcome.  Most importantly, in following this protein therapy, the detrimental secondary injury process was not apparent.

Protein needs of a sedentary adult are estimated at .8 grams/kilogram  or 56 grams/day for a 70-kilogram, 154lb man.  (Pounds/2.2 kilograms per pound * .8 grams/kilogram).   Protein needs of a football, power sport playing athlete are approximately 1.4 – 1.7 grams/kilogram for males and 1.1 – 1.5 grams/kilogram for females or 98-119 grams/day. Athletes in a strength training program can be recommended up to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram per day, almost twice the RDA (Wardlaw, et. al., 2013).

The objective of this discussion has been to bring current research advancements to light given the realization that concussive TBIs cause damage and disease, such that this information may be further evaluated by the public, health care providers, and the medical research community.

Traumatic Brain Injury References:

Alves OL, Bullock R (2001). “Excitotoxic damage in traumatic brain injury”. In Clark RSB, Kochanek P. Brain injury. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers. p. 1. ISBN 0-7923-7532-7. Retrieved 2008-11-28.

Arlinghaus KA, Shoaib AM, Price TRP (2005). “Neuropsychiatric assessment”. In Silver JM, McAllister TW, Yudofsky SC. Textbook Of Traumatic Brain Injury. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. pp. 63–65. ISBN 1-58562-105-6.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Traumatic brain injury” ( 2007.

Cassidy JD, Carroll LJ, Peloso PM, Borg J, von Holst H, Holm L et al. (2004). “Incidence, risk factors and prevention of mild traumatic brain injury: Results of the WHO Collaborating Centre Task Force on Mild Traumatic Brain Injury”. Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine 36 (Supplement 43): 28–60. DOI:10.1080/16501960410023732. PMID 15083870.

Carlson K, Kehle S, Meis L, Greer N, MacDonald R, Rutks I, Wilt TJ, “The Assessment and Treatment of Individuals with History of Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Systematic Review of the Evidence [Internet].” Washington (DC), Department of Veterans Affairs (US); 2009 Aug, VA Evidence-based Synthesis Program Reports

Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs (2008). “Traumatic Brain Injury Task Force”.

Farag E, Manno EM, Kurz A. (2011) “Use of hypothermia for traumatic brain injury: point of view” Minerva Anesthesiol. 2011 Mar;77(3):366-70. Epub 2011 Feb 1. PMID: 21283076

Frey LC (2003). “Epidemiology of posttraumatic epilepsy: A critical review”. Epilepsia 44 (Supplement 10): 11–17. DOI:10.1046/j.1528-1157.44.s10.4.x. PMID 14511389.

Furlow, B (2010 May-Jun). “Radiation dose in computed tomography.”. Radiologic Technology 81 (5): 437-50. PMID 20445138.

Ghajar J (September 2000). “Traumatic brain injury”. Lancet 356 (9233): 923–29. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(00)02689-1. PMID 11036909.

Greenwald BD, Burnett DM, Miller MA (March 2003). “Congenital and acquired brain injury. 1. Brain injury: epidemiology and pathophysiology”. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 84 (3 Suppl 1): S3–7. DOI:10.1053/apmr.2003.50052. PMID 12708551.

Hardman JM, Manoukian A (2002). “Pathology of head trauma”. Neuroimaging Clinics of North America 12 (2): 175–87, vii. DOI:10.1016/S1052-5149(02)00009-6. PMID 12391630. “TBI is highest in young adults aged 15 to 24 years and higher in men than women in all age groups.”

Kushner D (1998). “Mild traumatic brain injury: Toward understanding manifestations and treatment”. Archives of Internal Medicine 158 (15): 1617–24. DOI:10.1001/archinte.158.15.1617. PMID 9701095.

Kwasnica C, Brown AW, Elovic EP, Kothari S, Flanagan SR (March 2008). “Congenital and acquired brain injury. 3. Spectrum of the acquired brain injury population”. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 89 (3 Suppl 1): S15–20. DOI:10.1016/j.apmr.2007.12.006. PMID 18295644.

León-Carrión J, Domínguez-Morales Mdel R, Barroso y Martín JM, Murillo-Cabezas F (2005). “Epidemiology of traumatic brain injury and subarachnoid hemorrhage”. Pituitary 8 (3–4): 197–202. DOI:10.1007/s11102-006-6041-5. PMID 16508717.

Maas AI, Stocchetti N, Bullock R (August 2008). “Moderate and severe traumatic brain injury in adults”. Lancet Neurology 7 (8): 728–41. DOI:10.1016/S1474-4422(08)70164-9. PMID 18635021.

“NINDS Traumatic Brain Injury Information Page”. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 2008-09-15. Retrieved 2008-10-27.

Parikh S, Koch M, Narayan RK (2007). “Traumatic brain injury”. International Anesthesiology Clinics 45 (3): 119–35. DOI:10.1097/AIA.0b013e318078cfe7. PMID 17622833.

Park E, Bell JD, Baker AJ (April 2008). “Traumatic brain injury: Can the consequences be stopped?”. Canadian Medical Association Journal 178 (9): 1163–70. DOI:10.1503/cmaj.080282. PMC 2292762. PMID 18427091.

Salomone JP, Frame SB (2004). “Prehospital care”. In Moore EJ, Feliciano DV, Mattox KL. Trauma. New York: McGraw-Hill, Medical Pub. Division. pp. 117–8. ISBN 0-07-137069-2. Retrieved 2008-08-15.

Scalea TM (2005). “Does it matter how head injured patients are resuscitated?”. In Valadka AB, Andrews BT. Neurotrauma: Evidence-based Answers to Common Questions. Thieme. pp. 3–4. ISBN 3-13-130781-1.

Essential Fatty Acids References:

Abel R,  “The DHA Story, How Nature’s Super Nutrient Can Save Your Life”.  2002, ISBN 1-59120-001-6, (2002).

Adams C, Brantner V (2006). “Estimating the cost of new drug development: is it really 802 million dollars?”. Health Aff (Millwood) 25 (2): 420–8. DOI:10.1377/hlthaff.25.2.420. PMID 16522582.

CNN 2012

Eckert GP, Chang S, Eckmann J, Copanaki E, Hagl S, Hener U, Müller WE, Kögel D, “Liposome-incorporated DHA increases neuronal survival by enhancing non-amyloidogenic APP processing”.  Biochim Biophys Acta. 2011 Jan;1808(1):236-43. Epub 2010 Oct 29. PMID 21036142

Mills JD,  Hadley K, Bailes JE, “Dietary Supplementation with the Omega-3 fatty acid Docosahexaenoic Acid in Traumatic Brain Injury”. Neurosurgery, 2011 Feb;68(2):474-81

Journal of Health Economics 2010 Study,

Sears, B (2011). “The fallacy of using DHA alone for brain trauma.”

University of Maryland Medical System and University of Maryland Medical School:  Omega-3 fatty acids:

Wardlaw, Gordon M. and Smith, Anne M., “Contemporary Nutrition”, 2013, ISBN 978-0-07-340254-3, McGraw-Hill.

Vitamin B Complex References:

Bourre JM.  “Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain. Part 1: micronutrients”.  Nutr Health Aging. 2006 Sep-Oct;10(5):377-85. PMID: 17066209

Butterworth RF, Thiamin. In: Shils ME, Shike M, Ross AC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, editors. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 10th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006.

Chatterjee A, Yapundich R, Palmer CA, Marson DC, Mitchell GW. Neurology. “Leukoencephalopathy associated with cobalamin deficiency”, 1996 Mar;46(3):832-4. PMID: 8618695Acta Neurol Taiwan. 2009 Dec;18(4):231-41.

Chang CY, Ke DS, Chen JY, “Essential fatty acids and human brain”, Acta Neurol Taiwan. 2009 Dec;18(4):231-41.

Combs GF Jr., “The vitamins: Fundamental Aspects in Nutrition and Health. 3rd edition. Ithaca, NY: Elsevier Academic Press; 2000

Coxon KM, Chakauya E, Ottenhof HH et al. (August 2005). “Pantothenate biosynthesis in higher plants”. Biochemical Society Transactions 33 (Pt 4): 743–6. DOI:10.1042/BST0330743. PMID 16042590.

Guettat L, Gille M, Delbecq J, Depré A, “Folic acid deficiency with leukoencephalopathy and chronic axonal neuropathy of sensory predominance”.  Rev Neurol (Paris). 1997 Jun;153(5):351-3. PMID: 9296172

Hall CA, “Function of Vitamin B12 in the central nervous system as revealed by congential defects”, Am J Hematol. 1990 Jun;34(2):121-7

Hoane MR, Wolyniak JG, Akstulewicz SL, “Administration of riboflavin improves behavioral outcome and reduces edema formation an glial fibrillary protein expression after traumatic brain injury”, J Neurotrauma, 2005 Oct 22;(10):1112-22

Jongen JC, Koehler PJ, Franke CL, “Subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord: easy diagnosis, effective treatment”, Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2001 Jun 30;145(26):1229-33. PMID: 11455686

Karakuła H, Opolska A, Kowal A, Domański M, Płotka A, Perzyński J, “Does diet affect our mood? The significance of folic acid and homocysteine”  Pol Merkur Lekarski. 2009 Feb;26(152):136-41.

Naim MY, Friess S, Smith C, Ralston J, Ryall K, Helfaer MA, Marguiles SS, “Folic acid enhances early functional recovery in a piglet model of pediatric head injury”, Dev Neurosci. 2010;32(5-6):466-79. Epub 2011 Jan 5. PMID: 21212637

Okada K, Tanaka H, Temporin K, Okamoto M, Kuroda Y, Moritomo H, Murase T, Yoshikawa H. “Methylcobalamin increases Erk1/2 and Akt activities through the methylation cycle and promotes nerve regeneration in a rat sciatic nerve injury model.”, Exp Neurol. 2010 Apr;222(2):191-203. Epub 2010 Jan 4.

Surtees R, “Demyelination and inborn errors of the single carbon transfer pathway” Pediatr. 1998 Apr;157 Suppl 2:S118-21. PMID: 9587038

van Rensburg SJ, Kotze MJ, Hon D, Haug P, Kuyler J, Hendricks M, Botha J, Potocnik FC, Matsha T, Erasmus RT, “Iron and the folate-vitamin B12-methylation pathway in multiple sclerosis”, Metab Brain Dis. 2006 Sep;21(2-3):121-37. Epub 2006 May 26. PMID: 16729250

Vonder Haar C, Anderson G, Hoane MR, “Continuous nicotinamide administration improves behavioral recovery and reduces lesion size following bilateral frontal controlled cortical impact injury.”, Behav Brain Res, 2011 Oct 31;224(2):311-7.  Epub 2011 Jun 17.

Wardlaw, Gordon M. and Smith, Anne M., “Contemporary Nutrition”, 2013, ISBN 978-0-07-340254-3, McGraw-Hill.

Protein (Amino Acids) References:

Bhattacharjee A, Bansal M (March 2005). “Collagen structure: the Madras triple helix and the current scenario”. IUBMB Life 57 (3): 161–72. DOI:10.1080/15216540500090710. PMID 16036578.

Blenis J, Resh MD (December 1993). “Subcellular localization specified by protein acylation and phosphorylation”. Current Opinion in Cell Biology 5 (6): 984–9. DOI:10.1016/0955-0674(93)90081-Z. PMID 8129952.

Brosnan JT, Brosnan ME (June 2006). “The sulfur-containing amino acids: an overview”. The Journal of Nutrition 136 (6 Suppl): 1636S–1640S. PMID 16702333.

Chishty M, Reichel A, Abbott NJ, Begley DJ. “S-adenosylmethionine is substrate for carrier mediated transport at the blood-brain barrier in vitro.” Brain Res. 2002 Jun 28;942(1-2):46-50. PMID: 12031851

Jeffrey T. Cole, Christina M. Mitala, Suhali Kundu, Ajay Verma, Jaclynn A. Elkind, Itzhak Nissim,and Akiva S. Cohena, “Dietary branched chain amino acids ameliorate injury-induced cognitive impairment”,.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 January 5; 107(1): 366–371. Published online 2009 December 29. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0910280107 PMCID: PMC2806733

Erlich S, Alexandrovich A, Shohami E, Pinkas-Kramarski R. “Rapamycin is a neuroprotective treatment for traumatic brain injury.” Neurobiol Dis. 2007 Apr;26(1):86-93. Epub 2007 Jan 31.  PMID: 17270455

Faden AI, Labroo VM, Cohen LA. “Imidazole-substituted analogues of TRH limit behavioral deficits after experimental brain trauma.” J Neurotrauma. 1993 Summer;10(2):101-8.  PMID: 8411214

Gidday JM, Beetsch JW, Park TS. “Endogenous glutathione protects cerebral endothelial cells from traumatic injury.”  J Neurotrauma. 1999 Jan;16(1):27-36. PMID: 9989464

Instituteof Medicine committee report, Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury; Improving Acute and Subacute Health Outcomes in Military Personnel.  April 20, 2011.

Kim JH, Lee YW, Park KA, Lee WT, Lee JE. “Agmatine attenuates brain edema through reducing the expression of aquaporin-1 after cerebral ischemia”, J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2010 May;30(5):943-9. Epub 2009 Dec 23. PMID: 20029450

Krusong K, Ercan-Sencicek AG, Xu M, Ohtsu H, Anderson GM, State MW, Pittenger C. “High levels of histidine decarboxylase in the striatum of mice and rats.” Neurosci Lett. 2011 May 16;495(2):110-4. Epub 2011 Apr 1. PMID: 21440039

Penedo LA, Oliveira-Silva P, Gonzalez EM, Maciel R, Jurgilas PB, Melibeu Ada C, Campello-Costa P, Serfaty CA. “Nutritional tryptophan restriction impairs plasticity of retinotectal axons during the critical period.”Exp Neurol. 2009 May;217(1):108-15. Epub 2009 Feb 10. PMID: 19416666

Sahley BJ (2002), “The Anxiety Epidemic”, ISBN: 1-889391-23-9

Savelieva KV, Zhao S, Pogorelov VM et al. (2008). Bartolomucci, Alessandro. ed. “Genetic disruption of both tryptophan hydroxylase genes dramatically reduces serotonin and affects behavior in models sensitive to antidepressants”. PloS ONE 3 (10): e3301. Bibcode 2008PLoSO…3.3301S. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0003301. PMC 2565062. PMID 18923670.

Sharma HS, Winkler T, Stålberg E, Mohanty S, Westman J. “p-Chlorophenylalanine, an inhibitor of serotonin synthesis reduces blood-brain barrier permeability, cerebral blood flow, edema formation and cell injury following trauma to the rat brain.” Acta Neurochir Suppl. 2000;76:91-5.  PMID: 11450100

Shemin D, Rittenberg D (1 December 1946). “The biological utilization of glycine for the synthesis of the protoporphyrin of hemoglobin”. Journal of Biological Chemistry 166 (2): 621–5. PMID 20276176.

Wardlaw, Gordon M. and Smith, Anne M., “Contemporary Nutrition”, 2013, ISBN 978-0-07-340254-3, McGraw-Hill.

Wolosker H, Dumin E, Balan L, Foltyn VN (July 2008). “D-amino acids in the brain: D-serine in neurotransmission and neurodegeneration”. The FEBS Journal 275 (14): 3514–26. DOI:10.1111/j.1742-4658.2008.06515.x. PMID 18564180.

Zhang TL, Zhao YW, Liu XY, Ding SJ. “Effects of L-lysine monohydrochloride on insulin and blood glucose levels in spinal cord injured rats”. Chin Med J (Engl). 2010 Mar 20;123(6):722-5.  PMI

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