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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Brain Structure, Nutrition, Concussion, and Cognition

By Michael McBurney

Concussion is a common injury, especially among athletes participating in contact sports such as hockey and football.  The most common causes of TBI are falls, motor vehicle accidents, and being struck by objects. Concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), can impair memory. Many TBI are not reported. TBI is the leading killer of Canadian children and adolescents. In Australia, the lifetime costs of TBI are estimated at $2.5 million and $4.8 million for moderate and severe TBI, respectively.

The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) Europe recently convened experts in cognitive and nutrition sciences to establish criteria for brain function assessments. This is important because recent reports suggest that children and adults may exaggerate symptoms (see Kirkwood et al, 2014).

Accurate diagnosis of TBI is important for proper post-event follow-up. De Jager and colleagues report cognitive tests which are sensitive to nutrient intake and have been used in a range of nutrient intervention trials assessing cognitive function. These tests have been used to measure the effect of food (e.g. dairy, breakfast)  or food components (omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, caffeine, polyphenols) on cognitive function.

A major consequence of TBI is damage to neuronal structures of the brain which can result in neuronal apoptosis. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an important structural component of the brain structural damages and changes metabolism occur following TBI. Human clinical studies have shown that supplementation with DHA alone, or in combination with lutein, can improve cognitive outcomes in healthy adults or those with memory complaints. The application of the ILSI guidelines will help researchers elucidate the role of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, and lutein in maintaining brain function during and after traumatic brain injury.

Main Citation

De Jager CA, Dye L, de Bruin EA, Butler L, Fletcher J, Lamport DJ, Latulippe ME, Spencer JPE, Wesnes K. Criteria for validation and selection of cognitive tests for investigating the effects of foods and nutrients. 2014 Nutr Rev doi: 10/1111/nure.12094

Other Citations

Summers CR, Ivins B, Schwab KA. Traumatic brain injury in the United States: an epidemiologic overview. 2009 Mt Sinai J Med doi: 10.1002/msj.20100

Kirkwood MW, Peterson RL, Connery AK, Baker DA, Grubenhoff JA. Postconcussive symptom exaggeration after pediatric mild traumatic brain injury. 2014 Pediatrics doi: 10/1542/peds.2013-3195

Barkhoudarian G, Hovda DA, Giza CC. The molecular pathophysiology of concussive brain injury. 2011 Clin Sports Med doi:10.1016/j.csm.2010.09.001

Johnson EJ, McDonald K, Caldarella SM, Chung HY, Troen AM, Snodderly DM. Cognitive findings of an exploratory trial of docosahexaenoic acid and lutein supplementation in older women. 2008 Nutr Neurosci doi:10.1179/147683008X301450

Yurko-Mauro K, McCarthy D, Rom D, Nelson EB, Ryan AS, Blackwell A, Salem Jr N, Stedman M, Investigators M. Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. 2010 Alzheimers Dement doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2010.01.013

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