Eleven integrative strategies for healing my concussion

If you haven't been following along, you might not know that I'm recovering from a concussion injury that I got while putting some spaceship parts back in their (really large) boxes. I wrote an earlier post on the topic that shares some of the lessons I've taken from this experience.

I've been seeing a concussion specialist who is walking me through the initial recovery phases. His suggestions are similar to my ER discharge details. Figure out what makes your head spin, and don't do that anymore. Take acetaminophen if you have a headache. Well, since the evidence is mounting that acetaminophen does nothing for pain and shreds your liver, I opted to not follow that advice. I took my trusted Arnica homeopathic remedy instead and it is reliably helpful.

Here's the key symptoms I've been experiencing:

  • Dizziness and vertigo made worse by riding in a car
  • Headache made worse by lots of visual work
  • Impaired fine motor skills
  • Difficulty with word and event memory/recall
  • Impaired sense of smell/touch
  • Tinnitus

My concussion specialist says that I need to be patient with my healing and not push too hard. He's got therapists to help me with returning these brain functions to a more normal state, once I get over the initial issues I have with vertigo. In the meantime, I've been taking some steps on my own to try and heal the damage with some diet, supplement, and lifestyle changes. My goal, of course, is to support the real healing that needs to take place.

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What's listed below is the approach I am taking. It is probably not a perfect fit for your situation. I'd encourage you to speak with your physician and your complementary provider to choose the best course of action for you. We've all got unique needs, and you'll find the best results if you tailor your herbs and supplements to target areas where you need the most support. 

  1.  Protein is a key nutrient that many of us don't get enough of anyway. I typically recommend between 0.6 and 0.8 g/kg of body weight (that's between 40 and 55 g of protein daily for a person of 150 lbs). But since there's good research indicating that protein is an important nutrient for mitigating the long term effects of concussions, I am shooting for a goal of 1g/kg. That means 60g of protein a day, which is tough, considering I just don't have much motivation to eat at all. It's a goal, right?
  2. Essential Fatty Acids are important to maintain in your diet on a regular basis, but when your brain is injured, these oils are even more important. The brain uses EPA and DHA to maintain proper function, glucose metabolism, and to prevent inflammation from causing more damage. I take about 3 g of Carlson's Elite Omega daily.
  3. Vitamin D3 is a key nutrient for many processes in the body. Not only maintaining bone strength, but also for maintaining connective tissue, gut health, and also brain health. In a study that assessed the Vitamin D status of people recovering from TBI, the researchers found that vitamin D deficiency was common. Which makes sense. Vitamin D would be used at a higher rate as the body is trying to recover function and restore the damaged brain tissue. So, I've upped my vitamin D from 5000 IU to 10,000 IU daily until I am feeling more like myself. It's helpful as well, because my light sensitivity means I spend a lot less time outdoors. 
  4. Magnesium is important to protect the brain during healing. In TBI patients, researchers found that a decrease in magnesium in the brain contributes to neuron degeneration and cell death. Because I want to protect as many of my brain cells as I can, I'm keeping up with my magnesium supplements. My osteopath introduced me to CogniMag, which is a magnesium threonate supplement. Magnesium threonate is shown to better cross over the blood/brain barrier, which is exactly what I'm looking for with this supplement. 
  5. Zinc is a mineral that is essential to many of the chemical processes in the brain. It's also a key mineral for immune system function. Studies of TBI patients show that the body quickly uses and excretes zinc, leading to deficiency. I typically struggle with maintaining enough zinc, so I wanted to make sure I was getting enough. I take a balanced zinc supplement to make sure my increased zinc intake doesn't cause a copper deficiency. I take 30 mg twice daily. 
  6. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to prevent secondary damage from reactive oxygen. It's concentrated in the brain at 100 times higher than the rest of the body. Of course, this makes sense - you want to protect the brain from damage as much as possible. So, to minimize the effects of this higher vitamin C usage, I'm adding in more citrus fruit and broccoli to supplement.
  7. Betony (Stachys Officinalis) is an herb in the mint family that has a particular affinity for disorders of the head. Like other mints, it's relaxing, calming, and cooling. So, it's a great herb for reducing headache, calming stress, and creating a generally soothing experience. Because it's also especially useful for the head, I am using it to manage concussion symptoms. I'm using the tincture as a daily tonic and creating a delightful ritual with the dried herb as tea for those times when I'm feeling stressed out. My colleague, Jim McDonald has written a lovely monograph on Betony. What I love about it is that he also ties in the energetic aspects of betony in being able to calm down the thinking activity in the brain and clear out stuck thoughts, which seem to happen often - worry about paying the bills, worry about long term impacts, worry about worrying too much....
  8. Bacopa (Bacopa Monnieri) is an herb in the Plantaginaceae (water hyssop) family. It's been used in Ayurveda for centuries as a brain tonic. Recent scientific research has found it to have effects in sharpening the intellect, reducing memory deficits, attenuating the impacts of dementia, and even supporting brain health in people with Parkinson's Disease. I'm only starting to use this supplement, so I don't have a good feel for its effects yet. I'll update as I experience more. 
  9. Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) is another Ayurvedic herb. It's typically used as an adaptogen, or herb that helps you better manage stress. Tulsi is known for reducing the impacts of stress from physical sources, environmental sources, mental and emotional sources, and even metabolic stresses from imbalanced blood chemistry. So, I wanted to take advantage of this incredibly supportive and protective herb. I'm taking 1 ml of extract twice a day
  10. Meditation - what do you do when you aren't supposed to think? Meditate! I have had a not-so-regular meditation practice for a while. I've found meditation to be a huge benefit to me during this recovery. When I'm having a lot of pain or feeling really imbalanced, I find that 20-30 minutes of a healing meditation is perfect to shift me into a better state of mind. I am also using some of the deep sleep meditations to encourage me to get more restful sleep with less tossing and turning (to protect that sore spot on the side of my head). I use the Insight Timer app for these meditations. It's free and has some incredible guided meditations, or simply chimes/bells if you don't want to listen to someone talking. 
  11. Herbal amulet - My incredible silversmith friend Erin Harris is making me an amulet with a quartz crystal locket. I'll be adding in some key herbs to support my healing - betony flowers, holy basil leaf, bindweed flowers, yarrow flowers, and a moldavite crystal. All of these are designed to be energetically protective and supportive of my healing. I'm so looking forward to receiving this from her next week. Again, I'll update when I receive it. 

So that's my plan for the time being. I have to say the biggest improvement happened when I started the Holy Basil and magnesium intake. Until that point, I was pretty zonked out. It's still important to take things easy, do one thing at a time (for a super-multitasker this is sooooo hard), and be patient with myself. Everything takes longer to do than it used to. But everything is more beautiful now than it used to be. Taking the time to notice, to experience, and to immerse myself in the moment has been incredibly healing.