Food For Thought: Proper Nutrition Found to Help Victims of Brain Injury

Traditional wisdom has always told us that good nutrition keeps us healthy, strong, and alert. It is why pregnant women are careful about what they eat, and moms across the globe vigilantly watch the amount of sugar and nutrients their children consume. More and more studies reveal that certain foods assist in brain development for unborn and young children. And research now indicates that particular types and quantities of food given at the right time can also help victims of traumatic brain injury.

The study, titled “Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury: Improving Acute and Subacute Health Outcomes in Military Personnel,” was conducted in 2011 by the National Institute of Medicine for the Department of Defense, in order to recommend better treatment guidelines for soldiers who are at greater risk for experiencing brain injuries from combat and roadside blasts.

The study found that providing more than 50% of the injured person’s total energy expenditure and 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight within the first 24 hours and through the first two weeks of the initial injury can limit the person’s inflammatory response and greatly improve their health outcome. The research also indicates that prompt feeding of the severely injured can reduce the risk of death.

The committee who composed this report encourages more research in order to confirm a number of other possible benefits that nutrition may provide victims of traumatic brain injury. These additional benefits could include the restoration of cellular energy processes, reduction of oxidative stress and inflammation, and the regeneration of neurons or revascularization of damaged tissue. Each of these benefits can be linked to specific nutrients, supplements and diets that have demonstrated a contribution to healing in those areas.

Nutrients found to be especially important to the brain include choline (vitamin B), creatine (found in Omega 3 fatty acids), n-3 fatty acids, and zinc. Additional research shows (with less clear evidence, however) that vitamin D, a combination of antioxidants, and polyphenols like resveratrol and curcumin provide additional beneficial effects.

For years people who have suffered brain injury, as well as depression and other mental disorders, have consistently reported incredible benefits to eating a diet consisting primarily of raw fruits and vegetables that are high in all of the above mentioned nutrients.

Now, I’ve been a food enthusiast for as long as I’ve been eating, and living in this region that is so rich with agricultural resources, I always wanted to do more to support the local food movement, our local farmers and entrepreneurs.  That’s why I recently launched California Farm to Table, a website dedicated to celebrating California’s bounty by highlighting farms, farmers markets, restaurants that feature local seasonal ingredients, and more throughout every region of California.

We all know that we need healthier food options for our families these days, and fortunately here in California, it’s not a difficult task to manage. But the funny thing is, many of us still run to the big grocery stores when farmers markets and produce stands can be found in virtually every city throughout California. Sure, you can get tomatoes at a big chain store. But chances are, those tomatoes were shipped in from an entirely different country, when you can eat fresher, tastier tomatoes from the farmer who grows his food just a few miles from your home. serves as both a celebration of the agricultural bounty in our state, and a guide for those who may not know where to find farm fresh foods in their neighborhoods. And now I’m pleased to report that it can also serve as a healing resource for people suffering from traumatic brain injuries. Need your Omega-3’s? Visit the Daniels Family Farm in Porterville and stock up on brain boosting walnuts. Or pick your own kiwi fruit at Coastways Ranch in Davenport. To get more choline in your diet, try some fresh broccoli and cauliflower. For zinc, munch on some roasted pumpkin seeds. You’ll have no trouble finding those at a farmers market this time of year.

We invite readers to send us their comments, as well as tips about farmers markets and farm to table restaurants in their region, and to post recipes, gardening tips, and other pertinent information.

So to moms everywhere whose mantra is, “Eat your vegetables!” I say, “More power to you!” Science is on your side.