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Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Concussion

Ever wondered if there are any supplements you can take to help treat a concussion?

Since conventional medications have not yet shown much benefit, many researchers are beginning to study a wide range of natural compounds and vitamins that may have the ability to reduce inflammation and protect the brain. Along with curcumin, vitamin D and creatine, essential fatty acids in the form of fish oils, are one class of natural compounds with exciting potential therapeutic benefits in the treatment of traumatic brain injury (TBI). It is important to note that the evidence for these substances is still very preliminary and there is much more research needed to confirm these effects in humans; however Omega-3’s may offer a safe potential option in a condition with no single proven treatment.

Omega-3 fatty acids have long been considered essential for brain development and function. The primary therapeutic components of omega 3 rich fish oil are called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Numerous studies have found that both these components have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect in the brain. Since the human body cannot efficiently convert plant based essential fatty acids (such as flaxseed oil) to EPA and DHA, the supplementation of fish oil is the best source of the active components. A number of trials in animal models of TBI have found that that DHA and omega 3 supplementation improves cognitive function, reduces nerve swelling, stabilizes cellular energy production and increases nerve repair. One of these studies also showed that dietary supplementation with fish oil BEFORE a brain injury had a protective effect on the brain cells.

In summary, there are a number promising animal studies that have looked at omega 3 fatty acids as an intervention. Omega’s 3 supplements after a TBI for reducing inflammation in the brain, increased markers of nerve repair and appear to improve brain function in animals.5 Of course experts still agree that we need more studies in humans but the safety, preliminary evidence and proposed mechanism of action of omega 3 fatty acids suggest supplementation either before injury as a preventative measure or after a concussion may have some benefit. On a practical note, a high quality, high DHA (greater DHA then EPA ratio), fish oil supplement is the best source of the neuroprotective omega fatty acids.

Dr. Paul Hrkal is a board certified Naturopathic doctor and an expert in nutrition and supplemental treatments with a special interest in brain health, neurological disorders and sports medicine. Dr. Paul Hrkal is a member of the Complete Concussion Management medical advisory board. 

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