Science Update

New review demonstrates a role for branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) in traumatic brain injury

The treatment of concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a clinical challenge. Medical treatments for post-concussion symptoms have consisted mainly of opiates for headaches, anti-depressants, anti-nauseas, anti-vertigo, stimulants, and other medications to increase neurotransmitter levels.

In a new review published this month in The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, researchers demonstrated that branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a promising option for traumatic brain injury.

This review included 11 studies, 5 of which were human studies. Three studies assessed the effects of TBI on endogenous BCAA levels which shown BCAA concentrations to be depressed post-TBI. Eight of these studies demonstrated that BCAA supplementation improved post-TBI outcome.

Additional Nutrient Considerations

Previous research supports early treatment of high dose omega-3 fatty acids improving outcomes from traumatic brain injury. The brain needs to be saturated with high doses of omega-3 fatty acids in order for the brain to heal. If these individuals do not have an optimal supply of EPA and DHA, healing will likely be impaired. In addition, there is no negative impact to supporting these patients with optimal nutrition to regain as much function as possible.

Glycerophosphocholine (GPC) is a form of choline that has been used to help prevent damage to brain cells after blood flow, and thus oxygen, has been cut off to those cells.  GPC also supports the brain’s ability to recover after traumatic brain injuries and reduce the symptoms associated with concussion and post-concussion syndrome.

Zinc is another nutrient that should not be overlooked. One study demonstrated that zinc supplementation had positive effects on Glasgow outcome score (GOS), Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score, and inflammatory markers in patients with severe head injury. In addition, the length of stay was shorter and mortality was lower in the zinc group.

Other brain supportive nutrients to consider include acetyl-l-carnitine, inositol, phosphatidylserine, krill oil, and MCT oil.

By Michael Jurgelewicz, DC, DACBN, DCBCN, CNS

Source: Sharma B, Lawrence DW, Hutchinson MG. Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and Traumatic Brain Injury: A Systemic Review. J Head Trauma Rehabil 2018 Jan/Feb;33(1):33-45. doi: 10.1097/HTR.0000000000000280.