Have you suffered from a concussion or multiple head injuries? If you are experiencing chronic symptoms due to concussion, “searching for answers” has likely become as daily a routine as brushing your teeth and putting on pants. Google, books, reputable practitioner websites—you probably have an arsenal of information at your disposal that has helped you navigate your unsettling health journey and given you some needed hope.
While we applaud you for taking your health into your own hands and becoming empowered with information, too much of a good thing can feel overwhelming and leave you not knowing where to begin.
To ease your concerns and simplify your research, we wanted to give you some easy-to-follow lifestyle changes you can implement today that can help you with problems related to a concussion. Whether or not you are seeing a doctor, these modifications can help you improve your health and get you on a path to recovery.
Lifestyle changes: One Step at a Time
Before we start…
We recommend that you only change one thing at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed. It’s not uncommon for people to go too fast and as a result, they get so stressed out that they abandon everything they started. This is not a race to the finish line! You will get better, even if you take it step-by-step. So treat these lifestyle changes like you would a marathon, not a race. One step at a time is all it takes. Once you master one change, move on to the next.
Proper Nutrition is Vital
One of the most important components of concussion recovery is proper nutrition.
Head injuries often result in gut inflammation, which leads to hormone issues due to an overreaction of the immune system in the gut. So the key to getting this under control is reducing and eliminating inflammatory or immune-stimulating foods.
What are these foods? We will list them here and then go over them in more detail:
- Processed foods
- Beans and legumes (peanuts, lentils)
Processed foods are not just a problem for people who have concussions, but also the general public. Processed foods were once whole foods (pulled from nature), that have undergone a process (excess heating, refining) that strips them of their nutritional value, fiber and substance.
Manufacturers then add additional ingredients such as chemicals, hydrogenated fats, corn syrup and other fillers that are not healthy for our bodies.
Essentially, if it comes in a box or bag, think twice about eating it. Shop around the perimeter of the store instead—fresh fruits and vegetables, organic meats, eggs, butter, healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil), nuts and seeds.
To get used to the idea of eating whole foods, prepare simple meals at home (on a Sunday) so you have meals ready for the week. Also, think about how to replace those unhealthy quick-grab foods. Foods like cucumbers, celery, carrots and apples can all be grabbed on the go for a satisfying and healthy snack.
Note that eating whole foods can take some time to transition into your normal food routine. Replace a few processed foods a week with whole foods, and over time, you will be eating better—and your body will thank you.
It’s best to avoid gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley, oats and rye because they can trigger an immune response in susceptible individuals. Non-gluten containing grains such as rice and quinoa tend to be better tolerated.
Beans and legumes
Beans (kidney beans, green beans, black beans, brown beans) and legumes (peanuts, lentils) can overstimulate the immune system in the gut due to lectins. Lectins are a family of proteins that can be problematic for people with immune issues and excess inflammation in the gut.
Nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers) can be problematic for concussion sufferers because they may aggravate inflammation.
One of the biggest culprits of excess inflammation in the body is sugar. Even if you never suffered a concussion, high sugar foods are still unhealthy. But, if you do get a concussion, high sugar foods can cause problems.
In addition to inflammation, sugar causes fungal overgrowth. Mold and fungal spores are what we call opportunistic, which means they will overgrow given the right environment (kind of like weeds). If nothing stops them (weed killer) they will overtake your lawn (aka your body).
Does everyone develop fungal overgrowth when they abuse sugar-laden foods? No, they don’t.
If your immune system is functioning well and your hormones are balanced, you can keep fungal overgrowth at bay.
One way to explain this is to imagine a vegetable or fruit growing on a plant. You will seldom see mold because the vegetable is attached to the nutrients of the plant and it has defense mechanisms within it to withstand overgrowth. Once you pick the fruit, over time, it develops mold because it is no longer attached to its life source.
Now, imagine that your head injury is similar to that vegetable that was picked off the plant. Your immune system shifts and fungal overgrowth can happen anywhere in the body, from the nervous system to the gut. This is also why many women with head injuries experience ongoing yeast infections because the immune system is not functioning at 100%.
Less sugar = less fungus = less inflammation, hormone and gut-related problems
Sugar isn’t always the enemy though; we need it in small amounts. But, it becomes a problem when it is highly processed, fermented and eaten in excess. You will inhibit your recovery and never be able to get on top of your injury-related symptoms if you consume too much sugar.
Get the bulk of your sugar from low-sugar fruits (berries, peaches, oranges, avocadoes) and occasional whole food sweeteners (in moderation) such as raw honey and coconut sugar. Completely avoid refined, processed sugar (white sugar) and flour (white flour).
Sleep Hygiene: Get Those Zzzzzzs
How do you recover from a concussion? Get more sleep! Go to bed earlier!
When you read this, you probably cringe (and we don’t blame you!). If it were that easy, you wouldn’t be scouring the web looking for articles like this one to help you catch some much-needed zzzs.
If you’ve been struggling with sleep for a while, you may have heard your friends and family give you advice like this, but it just makes things worse. If you’re experiencing chronic sleep issues, getting to bed early isn’t exactly groundbreaking advice—and you know as well as we do, it doesn’t work on someone who is up all night staring at the ceiling.
We want to help. Instead of just giving you advice you already know, let’s talk about sleep hygiene. Practicing good sleep hygiene habits will help your body prepare for sleep so it increases the chances of a better night’s sleep.
Here are some tips:
Get a sleep assessment
Head injuries can also affect the upper cervical and jaw which can disrupt breathing. If you have breathing problems, you will wake up throughout the night and not experience the deep sleep you need to repair and restore your body. A sleep assessment will pinpoint breathing problems while you sleep.
Get out the strong deodorant (aluminum free please) because sweating is actually great for sleep. It triggers a response in our brain to shut down the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that keep us awake.
In between dinner and bed, try one of these:
- Slow yoga
- Hot bath
Note: Avoid strenuous exercise as it may make you feel worse. We will talk about exercise in a later section.
Unplug at Night
Don’t sleep with any electronics near your head or even in your bedroom. It can interfere with melatonin’s function, a brain chemical that signals your body when it’s time to sleep and wake up.
Also, keep your room dark. Turn the lights off and invest in room-darkening shades and curtains. Even the smallest amount of light can affect melatonin levels and disrupt sleep.
One other vital action you can take is to block blue light at night. We are all exposed to blue lights daily via fluorescent lights, computer screens, TV screens, and LED lights. That dominant blue wavelength of light tells our brain to produce more of the neurotransmitters and hormones that keep us alert and awake.
Now, imagine that you have been exposing yourself to this blue light for days and even months and your circadian rhythm gets messed up as a result. So you have insomnia at night and then you’re tired all day and you’re never getting deep restorative sleep. Your brain is trying to turn itself on at night and this results in depleted resources over time. You have to stop your brain from getting tricked into thinking it needs to stay up at night.
One way to block the blue light is to use specialized glasses. We recommend the blue light blocking glasses from a brand called Prisma.
I know it can be tough to start moving after a head injury as you may feel fatigued and lack energy. But, movement is important to recovery.
How much movement? First, you never want to overdo it. If you exercise and you feel worse after, you went too far. Remember, it’s not a race. Take it slow and you will gradually build up over time.
Start with getting your heart rate up for about two minutes a day. Then, go to three, four, and five-minute intervals. If you work with a trainer, ensure they have experience with Traumatic Brain Injury so they know you need to take it slow.
Even if you try for one minute and have to stop, be proud that you gave it your all and try again tomorrow. It will take time but day by day, you will notice an improvement in your endurance.
Before you know it, you will be enjoying those kickboxing classes again with your friends! Just give yourself some time and patience.
You Don’t Have To Live With Symptoms; You Can Get Well
Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot recover. Here at Neurvana Health, our clients have been able to improve their functioning after a concussion. There is light at the end of the tunnel, we promise you.
Feel free to check out the articles and videos on our website if you have any other questions. We are also happy to offer you a complimentary phone consultation with one of our trained health advisors. Be well!