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A New Approach To Concussions: do current treatments address long-term effects?

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Incidence of progressive neurological disorders and mood irregularities are steadily increasing in the general population. To further highlight the importance of this- research is now showing that those with a history of concussions are at a higher risk to develop dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, “age-related'' cognitive decline and suffer from depression and anxiety. New research is showing that individuals who have sustained a concussion have a heightened neuroimmune response, and a chronic inflammatory response in the brain. There is a need to better understand concussions, and implement targeted interventions that cover short-term recovery and mitigate the long-term consequences of concussions. Modulating the neuroimmune response, and addressing the gut are two avenues through which we can work. Acetyl L-carnitine and zinc have been shown to encourage a healthy environment for sustained healing. 

What is Concussion? 

Concussions are classified as a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The onset of symptoms is accompanied by a cascade of neurological changes that can linger for years- despite acute conventional intervention. 

The traditional symptoms of a concussion, which are a lack of orientation, sensitivity to light, memory impairment, fatigue, visual impairments and nausea typically dissipate within 10 days. Management strategies tend to cease after these initial symptoms are no longer present and they don’t address the cellular damage that occurs. 

Research is validating what natural medicine has been practicing for years. This is the idea that at a cellular level, the brain exhibits a heightened inflammatory response long after symptoms of a concussion appear to have dissipated. The chronic low-grade neural inflammation increases the incidence of both neurodegenerative and mood pathologies. 

Inflammation is needed in the beginning stages of a concussion. However, this heightened inflammatory response when left unchecked, operates on a positive feedback loop for years to come. Given that conventional treatments do not address the excess neuronal inflammation, those who have experienced concussions are likely physiologically compromised. 

How Does a Concussion Affect the Body? 

On a basic level, when a concussion is sustained, levels of vital minerals are altered in the brain. Along with this brain cells become compromised. This together, causes fragmented communication between neurons. This is important because the brain is responsible for communicating functions throughout the body.

The mitochondria in the brain are also damaged. If we flash back to high school biology, the mitochondria produce energy for the body to use. The brain needs a lot of energy to function, and this ultimately gets compromised when mitochondria are damaged.

Inflammation sky rockets, and neuronal cell death can occur. 

A lesser known effect of a concussion, and one that is often overlooked in a conventional model of TBI management is the disruption between the gut/brain axis.

Holistic Management Practices

The common post-concussion remedy of rest has no implications in mitigating the long-term repercussions of a concussion. 


When left untreated, the brain continues to suffer. Communication stays fragmented, mitochondria don’t heal and the gut/brain axis continues to be compromised. 


Healing a concussion is not a passive process and it involves a complex interdisciplinary approach that involves movement, manual manipulation, dietary and nutraceutical intervention. It’s important to note that a concussion protocol will differ from individual to individual but two novel nutrients that have a profound impact on brain health post-concussion are: Acetyl L-Carnitine and zinc. 

 

Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR)

The importance of nutrients that cross the blood brain barrier (BBB) are needed to target the inflammatory response seen in the brain post concussion. 

ALCAR is able to cross the BBB and it exhibits several neuroprotective effects that address the underlying mechanisms that may contribute to the negative long-term effects of a concussion. 

 Some of the Neuroprotective properties are: 

-       Cerebral antioxidant

-       Supports healthy mitochondria 

-       Increases synthesis of acetylcholine (implications in increasing neuroplasticity and neurogenesis) 

The research on ALCAR and concussion is only starting to emerge with studies conducted in animal models showing promise. 

A study conducted on retired NFL players that had residual brain damage and cognitive impairment from multiple concussions used 1000mg of ACLAR as part of a 6-month supplement-based program- with all around improvements on cognitive parameters.

While there is not a strong body of research on using ALCAR in concussions yet, the mechanism of actions make it a prime clinical candidate and we suspect that in the coming while, research will emerge to support this! 

Lypo-Spheric® Acetyl L-Carnitine has 1000mg of bioavailable ALCAR and 500mg of brain loving essential phospholipids 

Zinc 

Using zinc in a concussion protocol is paramount for two reasons. 

  1. The levels of zinc drop sharply immediately following a concussion. Research shows that those with TBIs have an increased urinary excretion of zinc even when noticeable symptoms are gone. This makes those experience a concussion at risk for a zinc deficiency which has its own host of problems

  1. TBIs, even mild ones such as concussions cause gastrointestinal dysfunction through various mechanisms. A result of this, is a destabilization of proteins that keep the integrity of the digestive tract- this causes what we know as “leaky gut”. Zinc is one of the key nutrients to re-establish this integrity- restoring the communication between the gut and the brain. 

When it comes to cognition and the brain, it is never too late to remedy past injuries. Thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain when given the proper nutrients can heal, create new neurons and form new communication pathways. Post-concussion syndrome has dire effects for both individuals and their loved ones. It’s important to remedy not only the brain, but because it is in communication with the entire body- addressing the whole person is essential! 


Author: Lisa Kowalyk, B.Kin, CNP

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