When it comes to successful neurological recoveries, nutrition is a key factor–a cornerstone that cannot be overlooked. In this article, we will explain the benefits of eating brain-friendly foods, the detriments associated with eating certain neuroinflammatory foods, and a bit of background information about why proper nutrition is exponentially more important after a brain injury or stroke.
LEAKY GUT SYNDROME AND NEUROINFLAMMATION
A typical human body is designed to take in a variety of foods, which are sent through different parts of the gastrointestinal system (i.e. digestive system) to be processed and converted into energy. Beneficial nutrients are absorbed and sent to the rest of the body for nourishment, while harmful components (toxins) are filtered out and excreted.
But what happens if the lining of the gastrointestinal tract or stomach is damaged, causing harmful toxins to enter the bloodstream? This is what we call Leaky Gut Syndrome (or intestinal permeability), and it is quite common after brain injuries.
With Leaky Gut Syndrome, undigested food particles cross into the bloodstream, resulting in inflammation and impaired nutrient absorption.
These undigested particles trigger a severe immune reaction, as the immune system sends signaling molecules and cytokines to the area, resulting in inflammation. Perhaps the most troubling part of Leaky Gut is that these cytokines are even capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, which can cause inflammation in the brain–what we call neuroinflammation.
When the brain becomes inflamed, there is a drastic reduction in brain activity and this can majorly limit one’s ability to recover from a TBI, stroke, or concussion. This even has an impact on the gut-brain connection, which can create further issues in digestion. Basically, it is a loop of inflammation that needs to be broken.
Healing the gut lining becomes a top priority in this case, and resources like Cavin Balaster’s How To Feed A Brain can help along with your doctor’s recommendations.
FOODS TO EXCLUDE
While all brains are unique and all injuries are unique, there are some basic guidelines that will be beneficial across the board. The following foods should be drastically reduced, or removed altogether, from your diet as they are inflammatory and create significant setbacks in neurological recovery:
While it may seem difficult to cut these items out of your daily diet, we remind you that it is very, very important for your recovery.
Cutting sugar, dairy, and gluten out of your diet right now may be the most important decision in your recovery.
Wheat has been shown in studies to lead to increased leaky gut in all humans, and there are countless studies concerning immune responses to wheat and gluten. The basic principle here is to avoid wheat, yeast, rye, oats (unless marked “gluten free”), and barley.
As we mentioned before, people with brain injuries, strokes, concussions, or mental health conditions are far more likely to have Leaky Gut. With Leaky Gut, wheat and dairy can be especially damaging. When wheat (gluten) and dairy proteins get into the bloodstream undigested, the intestine becomes even more permeable, allowing other foods that weren’t bothersome before to cross into the bloodstream and to also cause an immune response.
The research is unanimous here–along with countless patient anecdotes–that bone broth is a must. If you have Leaky Gut, your first priority is to heal the gut lining and reduce the permeability to reduce inflammation and improve nutrient absorption. Even if your gut is healthy and your gut lining is strong, bone broth provides incredible support for metabolic and physiological systems, and can accelerate neurological recovery.
Traditional bone broth (made from cooking bones) is densely packed with minerals which are necessary for healthy biology, including nervous system functions, neurotransmitter production, and muscle contraction. In addition to these minerals, bone broth contains collagen, gelatin, glycine, proline, and other nutrients that will help to shore up the gut lining and heal Leaky Gut.
Note: We’re not talking about your typical chicken stock you get at the grocery store, as that likely won’t contain the minerals we’re looking for. There are certainly some brands of bone broth that are significantly better than others, but we recommend making it at home. If making it at home isn’t an option, we can provide you with a list of brands that we recommend once you’re in our clinic.
For instructions and more information about making your own mineral-rich bone broth, we highly recommend Cavin Balaster’s website.
FOODS TO INCLUDE
Now that we’ve discussed foods to eliminate from your diet, as well as using bone broth to fix the gut and fuel the brain, we can offer some guidelines for what to eat regularly.
A simple recommendation that’s good for all brain injury recoveries is to eat whole foods.
A healthy balance of vegetables and high quality animal protein is a great methodology for proper nutrition. Since each patient is different, we like to provide more specific nutritional recommendations in clinic once you arrive and we’ve had time to analyze your blood chemistry.
With that being said, we’ve still included a few lists of vegetables, fats, and proteins we consider good across the board.
Leafy greens are excellent sources of nutrients such as vitamin B (energy, myelin), vitamin A (optic nerve, eye health), vitamin C (tissue health, immune health), and vitamin K (blood vessel health, myelin). **Note that too much vitamin K can be contraindicated with blood thinners, so check with your doctor before adding vitamin K-rich foods into your diet)
Sulfur-rich vegetables are probably the most under-appreciated, yet hugely important foods that we will be adding to our diets. Sulfur is important for liver detoxification, the health of our blood vessels, and healthy skin, hair, and nails.
Since over 60% of the human brain is made of lipid (fatty acid), fats will be crucial to your neurological recovery. High quality animal fats (grass-fed, pasture raised) are key nutrition for a recovering brain. High quality fish oils containing DHA and EPA are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which support the brain in many ways.
A BOOK RECOMMENDATION
In order to grasp the true importance of proper nutrition for a brain recovering from a TBI or stroke, we invite you to purchase the book, How to Feed A Brain: Nutrition for Optimal Brain Health and Repair, written by one of Dr. Gaudet’s former patients. It has helped thousands of brain injury survivors find empowerment through nutrition, and has served as an invaluable resource for hundreds of Dr. Gaudet’s patients over the years.
Excerpt from the back of the book:
After sustaining a severe traumatic brain injury that left him comatose with less than a 10% chance of regaining consciousness beyond a vegetative state, Cavin has devoted years to researching and connecting with doctors, nutritionists, researchers, professors, practitioners, neuroscientists, and more. How To Feed A Brain is the culmination of the nutritional tools that he has learned through this journey.
How to Feed A Brain teaches you about specific brain-supporting nutrients, how these nutrients affect us, and what we can eat to support our brain function. Cavin also gives you real-life stories of how he used nutrition in his own brain recovery. The book includes downloads to printable charts, lists, and user-friendly handouts to take to the grocery store or put on the fridge so that readers can easily apply what they learn to optimally feed their brains.