There are no “magic bullets” in the field of nutrition that will cure a TBI. However, proper attention to good nutrition can help TBI people ride out rough spots in their day more smoothly. High protein foods in the morning (like a soy protein/banana milk shake, yogurt or cottage cheese) will furnish tryptophans and other slow burning proteins for focused mental energy during the day. A bowl of hot oatmeal with fruit and milk will provide a good mix of proteins, carbs and fat. Sprinkling some wheat germ in your protein shake or on your oatmeal will extend the benefits. Some fats in the diet are needed to supply fatty acids for daily maintenance of myelin sheathing of axons, neuronal cell membranes and other brain structures.
A little fresh butter on your oatmeal or a low fat fruit scone is fine. Don’t skip coffee. It not only produces mental sharpness but for headache sufferers, it helps by increasing the ability of the stomach to absorb aspirin or acetaminophen, and speeds relief. A crunchy green leaf salad stocked with veggies for lunch is a good natural source of vitamins, minerals and roughage for the health of the bowels. A hard boiled egg or a little mound of tuna will provide protein to slow the consumption of carbs and feed the brain with neurotransmitters for alertness and concentration. A turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with mustard is fine, and the carbs will burn more slowly than with white bread.
Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, flush out toxins and keep the kidneys healthy. Complex carbohydrate foods like pasta for dinner will supply brain chemicals such as serotonin for relaxation and improved sleep. Covering the pasta with fresh chopped tomato is a rich source of beta carotene for the immune system. Making a side dish of steamed spinach with lemon juice or flash sauteing a dark green leaf veggie with garlic and tossing it into the pasta is equally good. While sweets for dessert release feel-good endorphins for a momentary feeling of euphoria, the extra sugar can race your brain when your goal is sleep, and too much sweets leads to obesity and heart disease.
Some general rules are don’t skip meals, because hypoglycemia is bad for the brain and will cause “sugar crash.” To combat a feeling of depletion in the afternoon, don’t go for the donut. Eat like an athlete instead – have some dried fruit, a whole grain fruit bar or some trail mix. Stoking the immune system with Vitamin C is also a good idea, since TBI tends to compromise the immune system. This can be done in the morning with a 4- 8 oz. glass of orange juice plus a 500 mg. chewable OJ tablet. Studies show this regime of taking Vitamin C also protects against stroke and heart disease. By eating in this way, you will promote better health, stabilize your mood and keep your mental energy up. Remember that “eating” is different from getting nutrition through pills or powders at the health food store.
Although some nutritional supplements are harmless, and may be good for you in small doses, some supplements are actually or potentially harmful. The Wellness Letter of the UCSF Medical Center recently reported that freeze dried, blue green algae from Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, marketed as Aphanizomenon may be injurious to your brain, because it is harvested from lake water with populations of other algaes which contain neuro-toxic substances called microcystins. Take special care to check out the toxicity research on any nutritional supplement before you start consuming it. The Wellness Letter quotes Dr. Verro Tyler (a nationally respected expert on herbs) as saying you are much better off eating a carrot than ingesting Aphanizomenon.
Does good nutrition substitute completely for medication, psychotherapy, speech therapy, cognitive remediation and other forms of therapy? Of course not, but it is a nice complement to them and is a way of taking care of yourself. In addition to eating well, try very hard to get at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 4 days a week, even if that exercise is limited to a brisk walk. Wheelchair bound people can work out their upper bodies on Cybex machines or similar machines at the YMCA or a fitness center. Exercise stimulates immune function, promotes heart heatlh and increases blood flow to all parts of the body including the brain. It also releases brain endorphins, which put people in a more positive frame of mind.
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