Nutrition and brain injury

Photo courtesy of tiverylucky at

Like many who read this blog, I’m a traumatic brain injury survivor: my car accident was now almost thirteen years ago. The coma that was the result of that accident lasted over six weeks, but I remember waking up like it was yesterday (one of the few things that stuck in my memory). A lot of the therapy that followed was intense and frustrating, and when it was done, with each stage I moved forward on a progression toward healing. One aspect that I remember very well, and which has influenced me to this day, is one that involved diet and nutrition. Since March is Nutrition Month, I thought this would be a good subject.

After six weeks in a coma, my body had not been able to maintain a lot of my muscle mass. At 6’3” (180cm), I probably weighed 120lbs (55kg) at my minimum. I was a rake. I’d not eaten in over six weeks. I had a stomach tube that allowed the nurses to pour nourishment into my body. I was on a number of prescriptions and they also gave me a multivitamin. My favourite nurse would grind up the mixture and pour it in to my stomach. We used to joke about how that was much better than swallowing the pills.

I continue some of those vitamins and minerals to this day: and although I believe they help me feel good in general, that is not related to my brain injury. There is no such thing as a supplement that will help with TBI or concussions. It’s important to have the necessary allowances, but there is nothing that will make a brain injury heal faster. Several companies have made such claims recently, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responded with a consumer alert (FDA, Dec 2013). “We’re very concerned that false assurances of faster recovery will convince athletes of all ages, coaches and even parents that someone suffering from a concussion is ready to resume activities before they are really ready,” says Gary Coody, FDA’s National Health Fraud Coordinator. Good nutrition is always important, but in healing a brain injury time can be a most important factor.

It is also important to establish limits. Certainly it was nice to lose a lot of weight in my coma, and it was wonderful to be able to eat… and to be encouraged to eat… anything I wanted to put the weight back on. My body responded and I added dozens of pounds (and dozens of kilos!) over the next few months. I approached my “ideal” weight… and surpassed it. Only well after my discharge was I able to establish the discipline with both eating and exercise that allowed me to lower my weight. I believe that discipline also helped with my general healing from the accident, since it helped me to better control my thoughts and desires.

Overall, it seems that nutrition for TBI survivors is much the same as for other members of the general community. But I would say that it’s important that we adhere to a healthy lifestyle, since any difficulties we have with our health can be exacerbated by our injuries.

G. Ian Bowles is a volunteer with BIST.

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