Brain Injury Rehabilitation Through Nutrition and Supplementation
Brain Injury Rehabilitation
People are often curious as to why I, a severe traumatic brain injury survivor, place so much emphasis on nutrition and supplementation during and after recovery. My name is Cavin Balaster. In 2011, I fell 20 feet from a rooftop water tower scaffolding. My head struck the steel scaffolding on the way down before crashing onto the concrete rooftop below. I was rushed to the hospital and put on life support. While in a coma, an MRI revealed a severe diffuse axonal injury (DAI), which is one of the most devastating types of brain injury. Statistically, over 90% of patients with this injury never regain consciousness, and those who do wake up will often remain in a persistent vegetative state. 1
After 12 days in a coma, I woke with severe brain fog, memory loss, breathing problems, and I was unable to eat, walk, or talk for months. An enormous amount of work and therapy played into my rehabilitation as I worked to regain everyday faculties… As I relearned how to live.
I would remain in a severe brain fog while I relearned normal abilities, until the results of a blood test about a year after my injury led me to an incredibly important realization. My protein levels were shown to be low, which was surprising to me, because I was eating meat with every meal and having a protein shake daily. My digestion was not delivering at least some of the nutrients that my brain and body needed, and the intensely difficult work I was doing to heal myself was not being properly supported. Like a house is unable to be built without materials, the brain is unable to heal without brain-building nutrients.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is a condition caused by increased permeability of the intestinal wall, resulting in the inability to absorb many nutrients. It is a condition known to be common with many conditions including brain injuries 2, and brain diseases 3, as well as being very common with people who have been hospitalized and put on NSAIDs and antibiotics 4, 5.
Rebooting The Gut/Brain Axis
Nutrition and supplementation were cornerstone pieces in the process of restoring the communication between my gut and my brain; finally supplying the brain building nutrition that was needed to repair at least some of my brain damage. When looking at supplementation to support an injured brain, we first have to address inflammation in both the gut and the brain.
Some supplements that act as strong antioxidants and that are able to cross the blood-brain-barrier include N-Acetyl L-Cysteine, high potency Omega 3 fish oils, bioavailable turmeric, liquid resveratrol, and melatonin. Melatonin is a highly efficient free radical scavenger and general antioxidant, but TBI survivors exhibit reduced melatonin levels after an injury 6, 7. Luckily, we can supplement melatonin in pretty therapeutic doses.
I first had to heal my digestion so that I could absorb the nutrients for my neuronal health.
While these compounds can be used to reduce the inflammation, it is especially important to eliminate the source by cleaning up the diet. After removing packaged and processed foods, I removed common inflammatories. This included gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, refined sugar, soy, shellfish, and most grains.
While practicing an elimination protocol and supplementing to quell the inflammation, next we would look towards immune support. Supplements for this include spore-based probiotics, emulsified vitamin D, liposomal vitamin C, colostrum PRP, and High DHA Fish Oil (for fat-soluble vitamins like A and D, as well as omega 3s). These compounds would help to boost my immune system, and, because about 70% of the entire immune system is found in the intestinal tract 8, they would also work to support my digestion.
Of course, we would also want to provide additional support to the healing process of my inflamed intestine. Supplementation would include several digestive enzymes, L-Glutamine, licorice root, aloe vera, marshmallow root, slippery elm bark, and more gut healing compounds, which are all included in this specialty compound by Apex Energetics. A less expensive option that I also like is Designs for Health – GI Revive. I always like to get my nutrients from food, so after using the supplements above for quite some time, I began making bone broth because it is also an extremely powerful food for healing the gut and the brain. I now am a huge fan of Broth Masters broth, and you can get $15 off your order by using the code: feedabrain.
There is certainly no cookie cutter approach to brain injury treatment, but there may be a common starting point for a successful recovery. One of the most pivotal realizations that I made surrounding my injury was that there are ways that I could nutritionally support my neuronal health at a cellular level, and thereby support brain plasticity, but I first had to heal my digestion so that I could absorb the nutrients for my neuronal health. I did so through nutrition and supplementation.
Learn how to supplement your brain by downloading my free supplement guide for brain enhancement.
3 Reasons You Should Care about Nutrition if you Care about your Brain
This post was also used as a guest blog at JoshGitalis.com
Ok, Ok, I’ll go eat more bacon now!
keep up the good work, Cavin!
You’re the best, Amy! I’ll keep it up if you do! Together, we’re doing good things. 🙂
Wow– I have been making nutrition and gut-health a cornerstone of my son’s recovery from a DAI/severe TBI–your article is the first one I’ve seen to address this. Awesome–and Kudos to you Cavin! (I have a stepson named Cavin too!). Thank you for your post–I will definitely be following you. I’m challenged at times because of the struggles my son has with swallowing–but have been gradually getting closer to a vegan.live-food based diet for him. I have worked hard to keep his diet organic, gluten free and and as much live, real food as possible. Supplementation is huge as well–and I will be following up on some of your ideas that I have not implemented yet. I just wanted to complement you on your vision, dedication, knowledge and willingness to educate others. #StayStrong
I don’t know how I missed this, but I have to thank you so much! This means so much. Stay tuned for more info and YOU #StayStrong too! 🙂
oops–I had autocorrect changed my email address–here is the correct one for your comments section:
No problem, Karen!
Just in case it didn’t reach you, I wanted to thank you for the kind words. Another Cavin?! That’s so cool! Say hi for me!
I understand how it can be challenging. My swallowing is difficult too! I’m surprised at the lack of nutritional information in regard to brain injury and gut health. I view it as fundamental to a strong recovery for many reasons, and I’m glad to hear you’ve adopted that mindset as well!
I will continued to update more about supplementation and nutrition, and I’m pleased to know you’re in this community!
This article hits the nail on the head for me. I’ve spent the last 15 years recovering from a TBI, and nutrition was one of the biggest factors in my improvement over the years. My doctor and I have been piecing stuff together over the years. Thanks for the insight.
Congrats on 15 years! I’m just coming up to year 5. Glad to hear nutrition has played a positive role for you too. I really think it is fundamental to health and healing, and I’d love to know more about what has worked for you!
My husband REFUSES TO EAT ! He is losing weight at an alarming rate ! I don’t know what else to do! While he was hospitalized he started eating and walking and talking …today he does NONE of those , please someone help me help him . He has no insurance so we have no where to turn
Thanks for sharing. I completely understand your frustration and am sorry to hear about your situation. As a survivor myself, I can tell you that, whether hes able to show it or not, your husband is grateful to have you as his support. Nutrition is, I believe, a fundamental piece of the recovery puzzle, just like strength training–and making sure he’s getting the right nutrition demonstrates that you are a good caregiver.
Without knowing much about your situation, I might advise that you share your situation and pose your request within several different TBI online support groups, on forums, Facebook or G+ for example, and see if there are other supporters who have experienced something similar.
You’re also welcome to email me personally if you like. 🙂
My 4 year old daughter suffered brain damage after contracting a virus that damaged her occipital lobe when she was 1, causing vision loss. In the 3 years since, she has made amazing progress, now being able to see colours, most of the time knowing there is something in front of her (but doesn’t know what), and when she is concentrating enough (and the font is large enough), can ID single letters.
My question to you, do you have any advice/knowledge on diet for a 4 year old to help her even more? She has a probiotic daily and has a pretty good diet for her age, eats a wide variety of foods.
Thanks for sharing and so glad to hear about the progress!
It sounds like you’re doing quite well with making sure she’s getting real foods! I talk more about that and anti-inflammatory foods in my speech at NORA. Without knowing more about your situation, I might also just add that healthy fats are extremely important for our developing bodies, and especially the developing and healing brain.
You’re welcome to mail me directly! I hope to have more things published soon on this very subject. 🙂
I sustained a head injury via car accident in March of 2006. Suffered severe trauma to my right shoulder, right hip, and my brain itself. Reason why I have decided to share on this website is my appetite has more than doubled since before I was injured. Why is this?
I must have missed your comment (I just got back from a long tour across the US and Canada). I also used to experience insatiable hunger. That is until I learned what nutrients my brain was craving and began to supply themthem am soon to release my book: “How to Feed a Brain: Nutrition for Optimal Brain Function and Repair” which outlines how I agree and continue to heat for better brain health. Check it out at feedabrain.com, and you can get the updated list of supplements that I recommend for better beain function (and appetite control) there (just sign up).
It’s interesting to learn about brain rehabilitation. I have never thought about the relationship between the gut and the brain before, but it makes sense. If your stomach can’t absorb healing nutrients, your brain won’t heal!
Perfectly said, Ridley.
“If your stomach can’t absorb healing nutrients, your brain won’t heal!”
Thank you for this article! My wife was in a bad accident when she was 14 and is going on her 11th year with a TBI and I feel like this diet may be the key. Do you have a sort of ‘plan’ or ‘model’ that’s specific to what you are, since you cut out gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, refined sugar, soy, shellfish, and grains?
Hi! I wrote a book called How to Feed a Brain, which outlines exactly how I eat for optimal brain function and repair. 🙂
Ricard Brockenflabel III
Thanks for info about Glutamine, I used something else.
I had head injury/stroke/brain damage 30 years ago, originally diagnosed as ear infection(don’t know why since I never complained about my ears). Took me over seven years to relearn
how to talk,read,do math again all on my own. Then started
experimenting with herbs/supplements/nutrition. I once
convinced doctor my protein metabolisim was damaged. I got amino
acids(22) Balance Test,several years after head injury. Results
were that five were 10X too low, five were 10X too high outside
of normal range. Upon reading results doctor said “its impossible,
you wouldn’t be alive” and so ignored results.
I told my entire story and 30 years exp of experiments to two
Brain injury organizations but none were interested. A Neurologist
I consulted with said everything I’ve done and experimented with
are theoretical only. I said “you guys are 40 years behind the times!
very nice post, i certainly love this website, keep on it
Its hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what youre talking about! Thanks
Firstly, congratulations on all your hard work and recovery. It is impressive. Secondly, thanks for sharing what you’ve learned with others.
I don’t have a brain injury, however, my elderly mother has vascular dementia, which I regard as a progressive brain injury. We already implement a dietary and supplemental protocol which we hope is at least retarding her decline, but sadly she is still declining, albeit probably slower than she would have without treatment.
I am always seeking additional information, including anecdotal posts of improvement by other carers.
During all your travels in the world of neurological medicine, have you come across any treatment in particular, that has been found to be very beneficial for vascular dementia? Any personal feedback from carers, or patients themselves?
If you have any information to share, I’d be very grateful to hear about it, as I am sure other carers would be as well.
Thanks! Wishing you continued good health!
I am so glad you are here! Thank you for the kind words. Nutrition seems to be so important to our brain health, which is why I wrote How to Feed a Brain. If you have not implemented those guidelines, please do so… especially incorporating the sulfur-rich vegetables. Secondly, I would look at some vasodilators like Vinpocetene and/or Huperzine-A (also available in powder to add to a drink). Thanks again for your comment and feel free to reach out if you’d like to schedule a free discovery call. 🙂
Does anyone who has had a TBI sufffer with ringing of the ear?
Yes. That is fairly common. It’s called tinnitus and I like Dr. VS Ramachandran’s explanation of it as a form of phantom limb syndrome: a phantom sensation caused by loss of sensory stimulation. It looks like hearing aids can actually help to alleviate phantom sensations (ringing ears) by giving some real stimulation.
Hi. I just got out of the hospital – was there 2 days – I had severe and total amnesia. It was caused by a past trauma of losing everything I owned in a fire a few years ago – and what just happened – which was an explosion next to my home, causing 3 houses to go up in flames. The sky was raining red blobs of fire all around my home and I fled in my car. I “came to” 30+ hours later (I never was out – was awake the entire time – but recall nothing – I only know the above because someone told me what happened). My brain still feels strange and I want to give it all good stuff. What should I do?
Apply for a discovery call with me. feedabrain.com/consult
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Good day, my son was in an severe car accident on the 27 Oct 2018. Been diagnosed with diffuse axonal injury. What my I do , where do I start. He was sedated to protect the brain. He is responding very well to my voice and other familiar people. Where staying in South africa, nearest town. Johannesburg,Gauteng. The doctor are suggesting a rehabilitation center. But me and his dad rather wants to take him home. Please please help us to help our son
Hi Annamarie! I am so sorry I missed this comment! Please schedule a discovery call with me (I will waive the discovery rate for you): https://feedabrain.com/consult
Someone shared the link to your article, and I think it’s definiteky something we want to try working on with my best friend who has suffered a severe TBI and after 10 months has surpassed all the devastating prognosis we were given by doctors and nurses alike but still has a long way to go. I saw you had a book which I will look into for more detailed information but wondered if the book might or you would be open to sharing more about the stages of your recovery and how your diet approached certain symptoms or it was more of a wholistic approach. I believe the doctors are addressing her nutrition and gut health but I’m astonished at the type of food they provide at the recovery facility she is being treated at, very much processed food with limited nutritional value. I am very glad you’re doing so well despite how difficult recovery from this type of injury is.
I totally hear you and have experienced the disconnect when it comes to rehabilitation center nutrition. I have also seen a massive disconnect even in the hospital setting. As far as more detail about the stages of my recovery, I have a blog and podcast called Adventures in Brain Injury (https://adventuresinbraininjury.com/).
I also offer consultations and coaching to support families throughout neurological recovery and comprehensive care navigation. You can apply for a conversation with me here: https://feedabrain.com/consult
Looking forward to speaking with you. 🙂
Eating raw animal fats raw meat raw organs raw milk raw eggs raw honey liposomal vitamin c or vitamin c this should give brain all the building blocks to repair rebuild GOD bless…. trust the LORD JEUS HE will save
Dear Kevin, me from India.. my sister is admitted in the ICU becos of sudden brain hemorrage n now after surgery she is still in ICU, 4 days left.the doctors say that it wud take 10 days further as she is in need of oxygen as she does not breath on her own now. They tell us to talk to her, make her remember things of past . She is living God for us. Will music therapy help her n stimulate her brain? What are the foods that help her brain nerves stronger?? Will almond oil massage on her head help? Please reply. God bless u! Thanks.
I’m sending you an email.
I am hesitant to provide my 19 year old son who is an epileptic and is on a ketogenic diet, bone broth because I’ve been told that glutamine will create excitatory response in his brain and trigger off seizures. Do you have any views on this?
I tend to agree with you about that, and… there are ways to encourage the clearing of glutamate, Some supplements I like are B6 (as P5P), glutathione, NAC, bacopa, gingko, and oxaloacetate. You can find the B6 (which is probably the most important) on my website: https://feedabrain.com/product/p5p/