4 Ways Vitamins Could Help Treat Traumatic Brain Injury


Supplementation could play a role in treating traumatic brain injury.

Supplementation could play a role in treating traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The human brain is usually well-protected by tough meninges and a durable cranium. When accidental external physical injury jars the head, however, the meninges can no longer protect the brain and tissue slams into the skull.

Clinicians often use an egg analogy to explain to patients how damage occurs even with little to no outward sign. The shell (the cranium) may be intact, but physical injury violently displaces the yolk (the brain) within the egg white (the cerebral spinal fluid).

In clinical terms, it’s clear that TBI causes excitotoxicity, oxidative stress, edema, neuroinflammation, and cell death.

TBI has been called the signature injury of warfare in the Middle East, and researchers’ experiences with soldiers who incur TBI has led to better understanding of its symptoms and prognoses. Treatments have also improved, but new and better treatments are needed.

A single curative approach is unlikely, so interest in combination therapies has grown. Polymedicine approaches are designed to address the various types of primary and secondary injury that occur concurrently in the damaged brain.

Addressing the primary injury is insufficient, as the secondary injury cascade causes considerable damage.

Vitamins, minerals, and nutrients may supplement other TBI therapies, and a team of researchers from Southern Illinois University explored this possibility comprehensively in a review article published in the June 2016 issue of Brain Research.

The study authors noted that many FDA-approved nutraceuticals have the advantage of low toxicity and few interactions. They specifically reviewed vitamins (B2, B3, B6, B9, C, D, and E), herbal medicines (ginseng, Ginkgo biloba), flavonoids, and other nutrients (magnesium, zinc, carnitine, omega-3 fatty acids).

Nicotinamide, magnesium, flavonoids, and omega-3 fatty acids appeared to have the most promise in the treatment of TBI.

The study authors noted the following 4 findings on how vitamins and nutraceuticals could help treat TBI:

1. Nicotinamide’s ability to support energy production, inhibit cellular processes that delay repair, and decrease free radical scavenging appears to be neuroprotective.

2. Magnesium seems to decrease excitotoxicity.

3. Flavonoids have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and growth factor-stimulating properties.

4. Omega-3 fatty acids affect several points (including inflammatory signaling and cellular plasticity) in the secondary injury cascade.

The study authors emphasized that vitamins and nutraceuticals are unlikely to have noticeable effects when administered alone, but as part of a polymedicine approach, they can complement other treatments.

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