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Concussion Prevention and Treatment

By Kate Davis | May 11, 2016, 4:59 p.m. (ET)

ConcussionConcussions are hot news, and athletes are looking to do whatever they can to not only protect themselves from a concussion but also treat one that may have already happened. One area of growing interest is supplementation for concussions. But what does the research up to now show to actually be effective? Lets find out by briefly exploring five potential supplements for those at risk of or post-concussion.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Found in shellfish, almonds and some vegetable oils.
Numerous animal studies have shown supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids to not only protect the brain before a concussion happens but also heal after a concussion occurs. However, as of now, no human studies have been completed to show the same. Except for one case study, there is nothing in the research to indicate that supplementation in humans is effective. The good news is that there are currently two double-blinded randomized control trials in place to evaluate DHA supplementation and concussions in humans (one at East Carolina University and one at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center). So, stay tuned...

Curcumin

Found in turmeric.
Curcumin is a phytochemical found in turmeric. Like omega-3 fatty acids, there have been many animal studies showing positive results both before and after a concussion occurs. However, no human studies have been done, nor are any in process at this time.

Resveratrol

Found in red wine, plants and nuts.
Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in red wine, plants and nuts. Two animal studies showed positive results when supplementing resveratrol for concussion treatment. While no human studies have been published, one human study was just completed, so hopefully that data will be published soon.

Melatonin

Boost melatonin with bananas, oranges and rice.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the body to regulate circadian rhythms. Animal-based studies show promise not only in the context of concussions but also Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. While these effects have not been studied in humans, a trial is in place assessing using melatonin in children post-concussion having sleep issues. 

Creatine

Found in meat and fish.
Many athletes know of creatine as a supplement for helping build muscle mass. However, research has shown that post-concussion, creatine levels in the brain decrease. For that reason, researchers have questions whether supplementation might be useful.

In conclusion, while many supplements show promise, none have been studied enough in humans to recommend taking them solely to protect the brain from or treat the brain after a concussion. Hopefully the human trials in process will tell us more about how we can most effectively fight the effects of concussions.

Please note that this post was sourced from a recently published journal article entitled The Role of Nutritional Supplements in Sports Concussion Treatment by Ashbaugh and McGrew, published in Current Sports Medicine Reports in the January/February 2016 issue. See the article for full details and additional study references. 

Kate is the owner of RDKate Sports Nutrition Consulting, based out of Naperville, Illinois, where she offers expertise in sports nutrition, eating disorders/disordered eating, intuitive eating and weight management for sport. Katie holds a master’s degree in nutrition with an emphasis in exercise physiology. She is both a registered dietitian and one of only 550 RDs in the United States to be board-certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. As a runner, triathlete, snowboarder and rock climber, Katie understands the physical and mental challenges of being a top athlete. Katie has previously consulted with NCAA Division I and Division III, NFL and NBA athletes; she truly brings both her knowledge and experience to the table as sports dietitian. Katie is available for individual consulting, team talks and group seminars. Visit her website atRDKate.com; from there you can navigate to her weekly blog, Eat to Compete, and connect with her on Twitter or Facebook. Contact her directly at YourRDKate@gmail.com.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.