Cellular Building Blocks – Eat for Nutrition
- This Section In Brief
- Cellular Building Blocks
- Keep Understanding Nutrition Simple
- What to Avoid
- Further Reading
The secondary injury depletes vitamin and mineral reserves. We not only need these reserves to heal, but also need to boost our intake to help calm and control persistent post-TBI symptoms. A change in diet and dietary habits may alleviate some of these problematic symptoms.
There are many reasons why inadequate nutritional intake and undernutrition can be problematic and what we eat is often the last thing anyone thinks of after their whole life has been turned upside down. The deeper the symptoms set in, the harder it is to consider all the things you can do to help yourself.
It can be challenging to take some published information seriously when there is no apparent reason why you should. In many articles about food opportunities to educate can be easily missed.
Science tells us many facts, and if we don’t know what these are, we tend to miss the ‘why’ about the need for change and then struggle with motivation. Knowing why helps us feel more in control and helps us to understand that our decisions really do matter. The more informed we are, the better choices we can make.
Also, a brain injury can bring about the onset of a complex range of outcomes and symptoms that cloud understanding and the ability to think clearly, so we can miss the importance of how what we eat matters to us and to our long-term health and recovery.
Everyone has individual nutritional needs depending on many factors, such as age and health at the time a brain injury occurred, and the complexity of the injury.
Many people with complex neurological needs will enter rehabilitation with malnutrition. This continues to happen despite the fact that research published in Edorium Journals¹ tells us, “Management of patients with TBI has changed very little over the last 20 years. Advancements in the treatment of TBI requires some understanding of the biochemical mechanisms of the brain during a normal resting state as well as the metabolism after a severe traumatic event. Brain metabolism is markedly altered during TBI. After the initial insult to the brain, the brain’s metabolism is altered and can increase up to 140% of its normal metabolism.”
One of the services offered by rehabilitation centres involves consultation with neuro-nutritionists who are experts in providing solutions aligned with personal needs.
Many people don’t have access to these services or are not referred to them, particularly those who struggle with getting medical support or have been dismissed by doctors.
While overall professional understanding is improving at a rapid rate of knots, there remain those who have yet to be detected by health services and those who are still struggling to find recognition.
Your doctor will be able to tell you if there are depletions in vitamins and minerals. You should not guess or self-medicate as many of the building blocks we need are not soluble and can therefore have deleterious effects.
Make your own food. Until someone comes up with an online video cooking programme for people living with brain injury, it is easier to avoid complex recipes. Try and keep nutrition high on your list of priorities and preparation basic. This way you won’t get confused by recipes and weights and measures. Following instructions can be difficult. If you are making something for your crockpot or slow cooker, look at proportions instead of worrying about the size of an onion. If you are struggling, think of simple meals such as salads or meat and vegetables.
Wherever you can, choose organic produce. If you no longer buy empty calorie foods and drinks, you will have enough money to switch to organic. Soda’s and snacks add considerable amounts to our shopping bill that we rarely add up or notice. They add little value to the goodness we need for our brains and bodies.
If it looks like a piece of fruit or a vegetable include it, buy it and eat it. Your body knows what to do with natural nutrition. For anyone who wants to know more about the science behind fruits and vegetables, please see our ‘fresh is best’ page.
Why organic? If you have a brain injury, your whole body is going to be more sensitive to chemicals. Where you may not have noticed the difference pesticides, fertilisers and herbicide residues had on you pre-injury, there is science to show that these same small doses do affect your ability to heal post-injury.
Always opt for grass-fed free-ranging produce. If you can, go for organic, which also eliminates the risks of hormonal or antibiotic treatment. Grass-fed meat is at significantly less chance of this than cereal fed animals. Wild meat is also an optimal choice.
We tend to think of meat as a source of protein, and whilst we understand some people will want to be meat-free, there are many benefits to eating naturally raised meat including it being a source of vitamin E, antioxidants, rich in omega-3, B6, and having 8 x more beta carotene, which you convert to vitamin A. Fast grown animals don’t contain the same nutrients, and they are highly likely to contain trace elements that no one would willingly put in their body – especially one that is trying to support the healing of an injured brain.
In general terms, if you eat poor quality foods, you are adding trace elements that can cause your cells to mutate or decline.
Yes, generally it costs more, but if this is the difference between wellness and poor health, then it makes sense on many levels to switch to quality meat.
We also need to think in terms of all dairy products – milk, cheese, butter and yoghurts. If you are really poorly, it is probably better to avoid all dairy products altogether until you feel better – at which point re-introduce them slowly and sparingly. If you don’t have a chronic disease, then consider where you are going to get the best benefit of nutrients and at the same time balance this by avoiding hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified grains getting into your diet. For these reasons, it is also best to eat wild-caught fish.
Your brain and body need you to be vigilant and to give them the best – if you don’t, you will need to increase the amount of food you eat to bring in the same levels of nutrients. You will then need to add even more to undo the damage processed, and empty nutrient foods do to you.
To recap – eats lots of fruit and vegetables and free-ranging, wild or organic meat. The cleaner you can keep your internal environment the less time your cells spend wasting time deciding what to do with the rubbish. Eventually, anything that can’t be converted to energy by your mitochondria gets stored as toxins, and these can build up so much that you end up with worsening symptoms and possibly any one of several related inflammatory diseases.
Everything else… Imagine it this way. You give your goldfish just enough water to cover his body to limit the environment. Then you feed him with foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients – how long do you expect him to live?
You would need a few goldfish in several bowls to experiment on because you can never underestimate the odd feisty fish.
If that fishy had its’ metabolism increase by 140%, how long do you think he would last on food that is high in calories and low in nutrition? He might keep swimming; he might float to the surface.
Let’s say then that you damage just 1% of the fishes brain – what would happen then? Would he keep swimming? Without adequate nutrients, the results in this experiment would likely show very quickly. In our larger bodies, the damage is still being done but is not always immediately noticeable.
The moral to all of this is that you can keep going on calories for a time – but eventually, your system fails because it needs more than calories. Cells are amazing microworlds, and they want to live. But, similar to when we get tired and fed up and how we feel when the last straw is added to the camels back, individually, and then globally, so too do our cells. They give up too, and one of the symptoms of this starting to happen is called ‘fatigue.’ You may also notice the symptoms of food intolerances which haven’t affected you before.
Changes because of malnutrition mean that very slowly and unnoticeably, you start to lose muscle mass. If your body starts to become catabolic – this means that complex molecules in your body are breaking down to form simpler ones – all in the name of energy production, then you will lose muscle mass, and wounds will take longer to heal. So if you want to get rid of those dark eyes and bags beneath them, want to feel stronger and be less prone to sores and the like, get highly valuable nutritional foods and supplements into you.
The thing is that all those goodies you have in your store cupboard might be just like feeding your goldfish pretzels or crisps/potato chips and nothing else. What you have in your store cupboard may look like food, but have you read the ingredients on the labels?
Do your store cupboard essentials contain added sugar, gluten, mined salt and or chemical substitutes?
Have a look at the ingredients labels on everything you store. If there is a word you don’t understand it is likely to be an additive – processing drastically reduces flavour, so manufacturers add highly processed or chemical flavourings back in.
If you are looking for flavour use anything from the onion family, herbs and spices, if you are looking to make gravy – make a stock. Homemade stock will add nutrients and flavour, and it doesn’t really matter if you put too many onions or carrots in the pot. You can reduce the stock down and freeze it.
The rest of the stuff you have, traditional and trusted brands – nearly always contain ingredients that are not always wholly made from our ‘simple’ list above. If you have a brain injury, the world of food additives is potentially both dangerous and complex; it is best to keep to natural and unprocessed foods and avoid anything containing gluten. Researchers have discovered a very close connection between the brain and the enteric nervous system (the ‘brain’ of the digestive tract). Headaches, migraine and brain fog, including in children, are often associated with gut sensitivity.
If you want to avoid using palm oil – there are very few processed food products that you can buy. Since the lipid scientists changed our minds about fats and associated diseases, food manufacturers have used palm oil to avoid using trans or hydrogenated fats. Palm oil is thought to be the ‘mainstream’ by processed food giants because, as yet, it is not proven by lipid scientists to cause cancer when used in processed foods. The thing is that there is no such thing as ‘sustainable’ palm oil – just like rainforest timber – no one can be 100% sure what comes from where…
Lots of things are bad for us – but you will only find them in processed foods. For example, citric acid is not the same as naturally occurring acids and can create inflammation and intestinal discomfort if you are sensitive to it, but importantly, it can be very irritating to the stomach lining.
The rule of thumb is the difference between what nature makes, and what comes naturally, and this is especially important post brain injury.
Asides from this, and back to you and your brain, here are a few creature comforts that are thought to be safe to keep in your store cupboard, fridge or freezer.
The hard and fast rule is to avoid processed food. But there are a few gems among the junk if you know what to look for:
Yoghurt – grass-fed or goat (no added sugar)
Pickles (no added salt)
Canned chickpeas and beans in water
organic peanut butter or 85% and above cocoa in organic dark chocolate
GMO – this includes corn – especially in North America. Corn and its by-products can create substantial inflammation, so it is best to avoid it altogether. Organic corn on the cob is a great way to enjoy a treat, but many by-products are not good for us at all. Avoid by-products especially to make sure you aren’t feeding fungus, mould, bacteria and viruses already present in your body. Your immune system may be keeping things at bay – but the more you add, the harder your body has to work. With a brain injury in tow, your whole body is working hard.
Soy – sadly as above – is mostly genetically modified and much of it also contains MSG. The safest options are plain organic tofu or tempeh.
Canola oil, another mostly GMO product, is damaging to your digestive system and creates a lot of inflammation. It causes vascular damage and is used widely in processed foods to keep prices down. In the UK most GMO oils have been replaced by palm oil which has its’ own ethical questions. The best thing to do is to avoid processed foods. Your body and brain will be happier if you do, and in the longer-term, you are more likely to prevent inflammatory and neurological disease.
GLUTEN – Few of us are aware that grains which contain gluten – wheat, rye, barley, and spelt – also contain proteins and multiple allergens which can trigger a variety of conditions. That gluten creates inflammation is especially bad for anyone who has sustained a brain injury – the last thing you want to do is to add more inflammation to your inflammation.
These grains also cause inflammation in the intestines and bowel tract and above all else, you need to make sure that you do everything you can to keep your microbiome happy because when we don’t address these issues, we may cause problems with the way micronutrients are absorbed by the body. Anyone living with the long-term consequences of brain injury, or anyone with a mild TBI or concussion that has lasted more than three months, needs to be aware that looking after your gut is just as, if not more than, important to looking after your brain.
MSG – monosodium glutamate is a salt that occurs naturally, but what we need to know is that it doesn’t ‘flush.’ MSG builds up in the brain, causing inflammation and swelling because it can get deep into brain tissue. When we think about how MSG can affect non-brain-injured people, we need to think very seriously about what science tells us if we are living with brain injury.
In a healthy person, MSG can kill brain cells, disrupts electrical signals affecting the ability to think and process information, burns out neurons and weakens neurotransmitters and leaves people anxious and confused. If you already have a weak brain environment because of a brain injury, then the propensity of damage by MSG is magnified. You are adding inflammation to inflammation and expecting your body and brain to cope.
Take care when you are reading labels about ‘natural flavourings’ in foods too – because MSG is derived from a natural product it can be an ingredient of ‘natural flavourings’ without having to tell you it is there…
Research tells us that mined and processed salt in the diet, possibly including salts from MSG, can obstruct electrical signals in the brain leading to chronic fatigue and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Being aware of what makes things worse can help us to avoid these things and to feed the body with what it really needs – micronutrients – you will have a tough time healing without them.
Most people are very aware of the foods they are allergic to, however, it can be harder to pinpoint intolerances to foods because they tend to fall among the things we eat commonly and also tend to exhibit less severe symptoms.
As with anything, if we don’t address symptoms by looking at causes, effects can worsen.
Any allergies or intolerances to food can exacerbate neurological inflammation, so everything we can do to avoid making things worse is beneficial when it comes to reducing brain injury symptoms.
Intolerance and allergy testing can be expensive and is often only available through private health care. However, there are things we can do for ourselves to narrow down and avoid problematic foods.
As with many indicators of disease, we are more likely to avoid acknowledgement of symptoms than we are to take notice of them. The main reason for this is the culture that has arisen through pharmacologically led medicine. In this view symptoms are put under attack rather than the causes being understood and dealt with, so we end up trying to qualm symptoms without ever digging deeper to find out why they erupted in the first place.
Functional medicine takes a whole new view on this but, again, not everyone has the financial means to access this means of diagnosis.
What we can do is to build up the gut microbiome and immune systems, and decrease inflammation in general by eating a nutrient rich diet. A quick and easy way to do this is to use the Blessed Seed Oil. When used correctly, this oil drastically reduces cravings and also quickly highlights problem foods.
Because the oil works on so many levels and starts to support mitochondrial health so quickly, people usually find that their brain injury symptoms reduce rapidly. Of course, there are individual scales to take into account, which are dependent on all manner of things, but the body reacts quickly to the high capacity nutrients available in this food. When this happens, usually within two or three days, an instinct sets in which tells people what foods they need to avoid and how much oil they need to take.
If you don’t notice changes pretty quickly after taking the Blessed Seed oil – you need to up your dose or switch to a stronger version of the oil.
Nutritional cognitive neuroscience – nutrition and rehabilitation
Edorium Journals¹ – *Combination therapy with vitamin D3, progesterone, omega-3 fatty acids and glutamine reverses coma and improves clinical outcomes in patients with severe traumatic brain injuries: A case series Matthews LR, Danner OK, Ahmed YA, Dennis-Griggs DM, Frederick A, Clark C, Moore R, DuMornay W, Childs EW, Wilson KL. Combination therapy with vitamin d3, progesterone, omega 3-fatty acids and glutamine reverses coma and improves clinical outcomes in patients with severe traumatic brain injuries: A case series. International Journal of Case Reports and Images 2012;4(3):143–149.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – Brain Food
NCBI – The Influence of Diet and Physical Activity on Brain Repair and Neurosurgical Outcome
Science Daily – Following Traumatic Brain Injury, Balanced Nutrition Saves Lives
Brain Health Book – New study shows gluten and dairy cause brain autoimmunity
Jama Network – Biomarker test for ME / CFS
Psychology Today – Nutritional Therapies for Traumatic Brain Injury.
Harvard School of Public Health – Processed foods and health
Frontiers in Neuroscience – Cerebral metabolism following traumatic brain injury: new discoveries with implications for treatment