NATURAL MEDICINE: Heal your brain with omega-3s

By on March 25, 2015
(Photo credit: dreamstime.com)

(Photo credit: dreamstime.com)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Recently, I have worked with a few patients in the community who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries, ranging from comparatively mild concussions to more traumatic levels that needed surgery.

Traumatic Brain Injuries have two distinct phases. There is the primary phase, whether it is a blow to the head or the sort of blast wave injury seen in troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The initial injury is followed by a secondary phase, which happens minutes, hours, weeks or even months later and is marked by inflammation and swelling. The symptoms of a post-concussive state (the most commonly encountered traumatic brain injury) include difficulty concentrating and remembering new information, headaches, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensitivity to noise or light. The Center for Disease Control recommends limiting activities and computer time as well as refraining from alcohol and plane flights after these sorts of injuries.

The military has discovered important information regarding brain injuries. I recently attended a lecture by physician Michael Lewis on the treatment of brain injuries and the prevention of suicide through the use of omega-3 oils. Lewis worked for the U.S. Army for 31 years. During that time, he studied the clinical use of omega-3 fatty acids for the prevention, acute treatment and rehabilitation of brain injuries specifically from physical and psychological trauma that includes traumatic brain injury and concussions, stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.

His research points to changes in our brain health, based on our modern diet and food supply. According to Lewis, in the past 50 years or so, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils in our diet has changed from one-to-one to 25-to-one. Omega-6 oils create an environment that is inflammatory. While some inflammation is necessary for good health, too much is damaging. In a one-to-one ratio, excess inflammation can be countered by omega-3 fatty acids. At 25-to-one, we have serious problems. The greatest source of the omega-6 overload is soybean oil found in processed foods and in our entire food chain, including animal feed.

Your brain is made up of 60 percent fat. Half of that is eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are omega-3 fats. Omega-3s affect neuroprotection, neuro-inflammation and neuroregeneration.

If you or your child play a contact sport or a sport that involves hard falls, or have any other risk factors for a concussion or a traumatic brain injury, you should be taking omega-3s daily. If you preload your system, you can “increase the resilience of the brain to withstand injury” Lewis says, thus offering neuroprotection. Think of it as preventative maintenance for the next time you go over the handlebars.

If you have sustained a concussion or a traumatic brain injury, you should begin taking omega-3s immediately to decrease inflammation and increase blood flow. Bringing your omega-6 and omega-3 levels into balance is how you decrease neuroinflammation. Taking these oils will not stimulate the development of new brain cells, but it will help your body build new synapses, creating better functioning of existing nerve cells.

A recent National Institute of Health study found that in order to reach a desirable saturation point of DHA in the brain, you must supplement omega-3 consistently for twelve weeks. The correct post-trauma amount varies depending on the severity of the injury. A high dose of 9,000 milligrams per day is a good start, followed by a reduction over a week or two to 3,000 milligrams per day, which is the prophylactic dose. Again, this is dependent on the individual, as well as the trauma. Regardless, measuring omega-3 and omega-6 is a great way to assess your starting point.

We chase fun pretty hard here in Jackson and that can mean falling hard, too. Wear your helmet. Take your omega-3s. Food is always your best medicine, but supplementing your diet when you are treating a specific condition is warranted.

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