You don't have to have to receive a concussion diagnosis to have an injured brain. Small but repeated insults to the brain - falls, crashes, whiplash, being near explosions, landing on your tailbone - damage brain tissue. Even if the head is not directly hit, a blow or jolt to the body causes the brain to bang around in the skull and sustain damage.
Each insult may not be severe enough for a diagnosis on its own, but added together over time they can cause long term problems and raise the risk of dementia and other brain-related disorders.
Some immediate symptoms may be obvious, such as headache, feeling of pressure in the head, changes in vision, or dizziness. Some are less obviously related, such as increased irritability, anxiety, moodiness, fatigue, sleep problems, or lack of focus. But it's also possible to have no symptoms at all despite damage to the brain.
The standard health care model does not assess the brain when addressing blows to the body. For instance, with whiplash the neck is cared for or with a back injury the back is addressed. But potential damage to the brain is ignored.
Each insult to the brain causes inflammation. Unlike the body, the brain's immune system does not have an off switch and inflammation can go on for weeks, months, and even years, especially in a brain environment that is unhealthy or when injuries are repeated.
Over time this inflammation damages and destroys brain tissue, leading to declining brain function and an increased risk for dementia and Alzheimer's and other brain disorders.
Health of the brain before trauma matters greatly
Additionally, if your brain health is poor to begin with, your brain is going to fare much worse from a minor trauma than if it were healthy.
Researchers call this "diminished brain resilience." This means the brain's general health is compromised and thus less resilient to any traumas it may sustain. This explain why one person can bounce back from a head injury while another person disintegrates physically and mentally after a head injury of equal severity.
Factors that can diminish brain resilience include junk foods, too much sugar, not enough whole foods or vegetables, unhealthy fats, blood sugar that is always too high or low (or swings between both), food sensitivities, chronic inflammation, hormone deficiencies and imbalances, sleep deprivation, high stress, being sedentary, and many more.
Basically, the standard American diet and lifestyle is brutal for the brain, and sustaining a brain injury with this kind of poor support means you will fare much worse than you need to.
Functional medicine basics of eating an anti-inflammatory diet, maintaining a healthy gut, and tending to the health and balance of your entire body is the best way to not only better protect your brain in the event of an injury, but also help it recover from past injuries.
Functional neurology is a great way to identify and rehabilitate the areas of your brain most affected. Functional medicine addresses the health of the body as a whole, which supports the brain. Ask my office for more advice. You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at email@example.com.
It has been a hundred years since a Nobel Prize winner discovered the thin barrier that surrounds and protects brain. Since then, we've learned this mesh of tightly joined cells, called the blood-brain barrier, is highly selective in a healthy person. It allows the transport of compounds back and forth through an intricate transport system while keeping out most everything else in the blood stream that can damage the brain. This includes heavy metals, toxic proteins, pathogens, and red and white blood cells.
Accelerated aging + Inflammation = Leaky Brain
Now, scientists have discovered that brain degeneration weakens the blood-brain barrier and causes it to "spring leaks." This is especially true in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning and memory. This discovery adds to the growing evidence that diseases of aging such as dementia and Alzheimer's are sometimes linked to what functional medicine practitioners call a "leaky brain."
Researchers studying the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease have found significant amounts of compounds in the brain that a healthy blood-brain barrier should have kept out. Since not every aging person develops cognitive impairment, scientists theorize that the leaks are more extensive in some people than others. They also believe that some other phenomena, such as inflammation or pathogens, may be involved.
Most research points to inflammation. Recently, biologists in the UK found that a molecule called microRNA-155, which is elevated in inflammation, creates gaps between the cells of the blood-brain barrier. They also found that the same molecule is elevated in inflamed brain areas of patients with multiple sclerosis.
Even brain conditions such as depression, anxiety, brain fog, and various neurological symptoms are linked to body-wide inflammation, which often starts in the gut.
This is Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain
A "leaky gut" allows bacteria and toxic molecules to pass through an overly permeable gut lining into then bloodstream. This causes inflammation throughout the body, and a leaky brain is often one unfortunate consequence.
Other inflammation triggers that contribute to a leaky brain are gluten sensitivity and similar food intolerances, out-of-control blood sugar, and too little thyroid hormone. Injury directly to the brain itself, such as in concussion, can also spark inflammation that damages the blood-brain barrier.
Repairing leaky brain with functional nutrition
You can protect your brain in part through various functional medicine strategies. This includes supporting the metabolic health of the brain by managing blood sugar, supporting gut health, addressing infections and toxicity, and following an anti-inflammatory diet. Nutritional compounds that support repair of leaky gut also help repair leaky brain, as do compounds targeted at quenching brain inflammation.
Brain-saving nutrients include:
If you’re accustomed to zoning out before bed in front of your TV, phone, or computer, you are significantly hindering your brain’s ability to produce sleep hormones.
A recent study found the blue light emitted from digital screens play a major role in sleep disturbances that have become so common. Almost half of Americans report sleep issues negatively affect their lives and the Centers for Disease Control calls sleep deprivation a public health epidemic. Chronic insufficient sleep is linked to obesity, diabetes, inflammation, and other metabolic disorders.
In the study, participants wore blue light blocking glasses for three hours each night before going to bed while continuing their normal nightly screen routines.
Blue-blocking outperforms supplements
After two weeks, the subjects showed an almost 60 percent increase in the production of melatonin, the primary sleep hormone.
This is an even greater increase in melatonin that taking an over-the-counter melatonin supplements can provide.
The subjects also wore activity and sleep monitors during the study. Data from these monitors showed improved sleep quality, falling asleep faster, and sleeping longer.
Other research has shown that subjects using an iPad before bed experienced reduced melatonin and poorer sleep compared to subjects who read a book before bed in dim light.
Healthy melatonin levels are necessary for good immune function and chronically low melatonin is associated with a risk for prostate, colorectal, and breast cancers.
Brain health and function depends on sleep
Although we all feel better when well rested, sufficient sleep is also vital for brain health and function. We need enough sleep to maintain focus, concentration, memory, mood, and coordination. Because the brain regulates the body’s systems, functions such as hormone balance, digestion, and detoxification are also impacted by lack of sleep.
Tips to support sleep hormone production
Blue light isn’t inherently bad; the sun is the largest source of blue light and our bodies depend on sufficient sunlight to regulate our sleep-wake cycle and myriad other functions.
However, digital devices and LED lights emit blue light similar to the sun’s that confuse the body’s internal clock when used at night. Artificial blue light activates photosensitive cells that suppress the production of melatonin.
In addition to wearing blue-blocking orange glasses before bed, people can also use blue-blocking screen filters, use lamps with orange bulbs at night, and wear blue-blocking glasses while out at night and exposed to artificial light. Some devices have night mode settings that lower blue light and computer and phone apps can be downloaded that do the same.
Is your brain on fire with inflammation? The brain doesn’t hurt like an inflamed knee does, so it’s hard to know if inflammation is happening. However, the brain communicates inflammation in how it makes you feel. One of the most common symptoms of brain inflammation is brain fog, that feeling of slow and fuzzy thinking. Other common brain inflammation symptoms include depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, memory loss, and fatigue. Even getting a song stuck in your head is a symptom. Of course, other factors can cause these symptoms, but an inflamed and thus quickly degenerating brain is often involved in brain-based symptoms. For instance, if these symptoms arise after eating certain foods, such as wheat or dairy, that can be a strong clue brain inflammation is at work.
Why inflammation causes brain fog
One of the most common symptoms of brain inflammation is brain fog. Why is this? Inflammation in the brain slows down firing between neurons. Thus the overall operation of the brain slows down. This is what causes your brain function to be foggy, dull, and slow. In the case of depression, inflammatory immune cells called cytokines hamper brain function and the activity of serotonin, a brain chemical needed to feel joy and well-being. For example, depression is a common side effect with the anti-viral drug interferon, which raises cytokine levels. Also, brain imaging and autopsies show brain inflammation is more common in individuals with autism. It’s important to take brain inflammation seriously — inflammation in the brain damages and destroys brain cells, speeding aging and atrophy of your brain. This raises your risk for dementia, Alzheimer’s (brain inflammation increases amyloid beta), Parkinson’s and other degenerative brain diseases.
Why does brain inflammation happen
It’s very important to know why your brain is inflamed because this will point you in the right direction to address it and relieve symptoms. One of the more common causes of brain inflammation is an injury to the head. A brain injury causes the brain’s immune cells, which are different from those in the body, to begin the healing process and removal of dead and damaged neurons. However, immune cells in the brain do not turn off, especially if there are already other imbalances in the body. This means inflammation in the brain can continue long after injury. This is one reason football players have brain-related issues long after they retire. Other causes of brain inflammation include:
Brain inflammation means your brain is degenerating (aging) too fast. Brain-saving tips include: Take flavonoids, plant compounds that have been shown to reduce brain inflammation.
How your inner ear can influence your emotions
We tend to think of our emotions as being strictly tied to our psychology and personality — some people are highly emotional and others are not. But did you know your inner can profoundly affect your emotions? Our inner ear, called the vestibular system, is integrated with the eyes and the brain to tell you where you are in space and is integral to survival, safety, and attention. This system is a labyrinth of the semi-circular positioned in right angles to each other so they can perceive motion in three-dimensional space. You engage your vestibular system when you turn your head, change positions, look one direction while moving in another, balance on one leg, ride a bike, and so on. The vestibular system also plays a role in integrating gravity, acceleration, and deceleration. In summary, the vestibular system works with your eyes and your brain to keep your body stable and aware of where it is in the environment around it. Imagine driving while holding a glass of water and how accelerating, driving at an even speed, stopping, and turning affect the water in the glass. This is somewhat how the vestibular system, which contains fluid and sensory hair cells, works to deliver information to the brain.
When the vestibular system isn’t working well
Unfortunately, the inner ear can be quite fragile and vulnerable to damage from concussions, micro-traumas to the brain, and whiplash. Many people have vestibular system damage or disorders that they are not aware of. Some hallmarks of vestibular problems include poor balance, dizziness, and being easily prone to motion sickness. When the inner ear canals are damaged, information from the vestibular system does not coordinate properly with information from the eyes and the body. This causes neurological confusion and resulting symptoms. A poorly functioning cerebellum also plays a role in vestibular dysfunction. The cerebellum is the area at the base of the brain — it works closely with the vestibular system and is integral to balance and coordination.
How inner ear problems cause emotional problems
When your vestibular system is damaged, or when there is dysfunctional coordination between the inner ear and the cerebellum, your sense of balance and stability are affected. The body ultimately perceives this as a stressor. Typically, vestibular dysfunction is too subtle for most people to notice. Yet it nevertheless creates a sense of neurological confusion the brain and body perceive as chronically and subtly terrifying, thus putting the survival system on red alert and raising stress hormones. People who have experienced anxiety after being on a roller coaster or from spinning may understand this connection
Emotions are governed by an area of the brain called the limbic system, and extensive networks exist between the vestibular and the limbic system. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people diagnosed with vestibular disorders to report they are not themselves emotionally.
Rehabilitating the inner ear for healthier emotions
Researchers are able to impact a person’s depression, anxiety, and other emotional states by activating and rehabilitating the vestibular system, lending further weight to the connection between the inner ear and emotions. Fortunately, functional neurology is well grounded in the examination of the vestibular system, identifying dysfunction, and creating customized exercises to help you rehabilitate your vestibular system and brain. This can bring not only relief from physical signs and symptoms, but it can also lower anxiety and relieve emotional symptoms. Ask my office for more information.