What To Feed An Injured Brain

Oxford Academic
Mar 13 · 3 min read
Image via Freepik

Brain Injury Awareness Month takes place annually in March. Explore an excerpt and infographic from Your Brain on Food, to find out how chemicals in the diet can help alleviate the symptoms of traumatic brain injury.

You have just experienced a traumatic injury to your head; a series of changes are about to occur in your brain that will have short- and long- term negative consequences. You just joined the ranks millions of other people worldwide who experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI) every year.

In the hours, days, and weeks following an initial TBI accident, a series of secondary biochemical changes develop that lead to a progressive degeneration within vulnerable brain regions. One of the initial changes involves a dysfunction of the mitochondria inside of the neurons of the brain. Mitochondria are responsible for energy production and are critical to the survival of neurons, which use a lot of energy. The injury to the mitochondria leads to a condition called oxidative stress, in which individual atoms of oxygen that we inhale become very toxic to the brain. Next, the oxidative stress induces brain inflammation, which leads to an assortment of degenerative diseases, particularly during the years following the TBI event. These three critical events following the TBI — that is, loss of normal energy production, oxidative stress, and long-term brain inflammation — underlie the development of seizures, sleep disruption, fatigue, depression, impulsivity, irritability, and cognitive decline.

Research has advanced sufficiently to understand how specific chemicals in the diet can target the negative effects of oxidative stress and inflammation.

Although no effective treatments are available to alleviate these biochemical events in the brain, research has advanced sufficiently to understand how specific chemicals in the diet can target the negative effects of oxidative stress and inflammation.

Interventional studies with natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatories via the diet are becoming attractive options for patients with TBI. Unfortunately, very few clinical trials to treat this neurological condition have been performed. Preliminary evidence clearly suggests that what a person eats following a brain injury can have significant long- term consequences.


Gary L. Wenk is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the Ohio State University, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the director of neuroscience programs and a member of the Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee. He is the author of Your Brain on Food, 3rd Edition, 2019 (Oxford University Press)

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