Traumatic Brain Injury – or TBI – is, as the name suggests an injury to the brain. A TBI can be mild, moderate or severe and is commonly referred to as concussions.
Concussions are caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.
I remember once, during some home construction, I took at terrible fall and hit my head so hard the doctor said it was a concussion. I spent a week healing from it and was told not to read or even watch t.v., and simply rest. It felt very strange, and years later, I had a cat scan and it actually showed the spot where the concussion had been.
Today, there are lots of discussions about athletes sustaining concussions during sports such as football and how TBI’s negatively affect their short term memory and learning abilities. My intention, as a learning expert, is to provide, along with medical intervention, a list of some natural healing methods which have been researched relating to concussions.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “more than 85% of TBI’s (Traumatic Brain Injury) that are medically treated are considered mild and most patients are able to recover from their injuries.”
All this is possible because of the incredible superpowers of your brain, which I discuss more about below.
Before readng on, take note that TBI varies from person to person, and the best treatment is individualized to each patient’s needs.
The disclaimer of course is that I am not a doctor, and that this information in intended to serve only as a guide and not medical advice. You need to check with your doctor before doing anything other than what he or she advises.
Do make sure to reach out to check with medical care professionals before trying any of the supplements and nutritional items included in this article!
And on that note – let’s take a look at how TBI impacts learning, and how the brain’s innate superpowers can help it recover.
How Does TBI Impact Learning and Memory?
Each year an estimated 1.5 million Americans sustain a TBI. As a consequence of these injuries: 230,000 people are hospitalized and survive.
The National Institutes of Health say, “TBI consists of structural injuries or physiologic changes in brain function secondary to external forces.”
Naturally, damage to the control center of your body can cause you many problems, including setbacks in learning and memory.
Damage to the hippocampus, for instance, can create difficulty in forming short-term memories – you might find yourself easily forgetting names, what you came into a room to do, and so on.
The hippocampus is also where your brain keeps information in order to create associations with other pieces of information, a process through which all learning occurs.
So, as you can see, if the hippocampus is unable to function, your ability to learn and retain new information can be adversely impacted.
Meanwhile, when the brain suffers an injury, it may become inflamed due to damage from free radicals.
Inflammation in turn has adverse side-effects like brain fog, where you’re unable to think clearly, the inability to focus or pay attention, and forgetting things like words and the names of people you know.
Now, while all this might sound dire, as you read earlier in the article, a good majority of TBI cases show recovery, with the right treatment.
And it’s all possible because of the brain’s incredible ability to learn, adapt and grow.
How the Brain Learns, Adapts and Grows with Neuroplasticity
Have you ever heard of Gabby Giffords?
This inspiring woman is an American politician who was the target of an assassination attempt in January 2011.
Giffords was shot in the head. The trauma left her in a coma, but when she was conscious, she was able to respond by moving her hands and arms.
By August 2011, despite the severe brain trauma she had suffered, Giffords was able to walk, learn, read and write again.
Though she was still having some difficulty speaking and walking, she continued to undergo therapy and in 2014, on the anniversary of the shooting, she even went skydiving. Today, after a remarkable recovery, against all the odds, she is still very active politically.
Many of the natural methods she used to regain her speaking, readng and writing abilities are listed below.
You may have heard other stories like this – miraculous tales of recovery from severe, tragic injuries.
These miracles are all possible because of the brain’s neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity in simple terms refers to the brain’s ability to learn and re-learn.
And your memory and learning, which you apply every day, for everything from basic acts you don’t really think about like walking, to remembering specific information, is stored in pathways created between these neurons.
When the brain suffers an injury, the initial phase involves the withering away of some of these neurons and neural pathways.
Cells die, the brain becomes more susceptible to free radical damage and therefore inflammation, and all of this, as you have seen, can negatively impact learning and memory.
But due to the brain’s neuroplasticity, in order to make up for the loss of specific neural pathways, your brain starts looking for other neural associations which can take over for those functions.
Neuroplasticity is what makes the brain an amazing sponge for new information.
The more you learn, and make efforts to consolidate what you’re learning, the more neural connections it will create, and the stronger your memory of this knowledge will become.
If you’ve ever sprained your ankle, for example, and after a few days just naturally got used to putting less weight on that ankle when you walked around, you have neuroplasticity to thank for it.
Your brain adjusted for not being able to use the synaptic connections where you could use both legs normally and created new connections that helped you move around by putting less weight on one of them.
The World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes two mechanisms through which recovery after brain injury might occur – recovery, and compensation.
Recovery refers to the “restoration” of the neural tissue initially damaged during the injury, followed by the restoration of your ability to perform behaviors and actions exactly as you used to prior.
Compensation on the other hand refers to the creation of new neural connections to “compensate” for the absence of the older ones and learning new behaviours and actions through training.
Thanks to neuroplasticity, many cases have seen successful recovery and compensation post-TBI (though do note that full recovery often depends on multiple variables, such as how severe the injury is, which parts of the brain is affected, the patient’s age, etc.)
The brain not only has this awe-inspiring ability to learn, relearn and adapt, but making use of your neuroplasticity to keep learning actually has plenty of benefits for your day to day life, as well.
The creation and maintenance of neural connections can keep your cognitive functions sharp, even as you age, and slow down or prevent the onset of degenerative brain conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Now that you know about the great learning and adapting potential of your brain, let’s look at 10 natural ways to help heal concussions, according to scientists.
10 Natural Ways to Help Heal Concussions According to Scientists
1. Naturally Heal Concussions with Lion’s Mane
You might have tried it in a restaurant or consumed it when checking out the fuss around mushroom coffee.
Some people say it tastes a bit fish-like, but foodies know it has remarkable effects on different types of food.
While the concept might seem new to you, lion’s mane is a natural ingredient with medicinal properties that has a long history among Chinese traditional medicine practitioners.
And this is for good reason, too.
Ongoing research, including a study published by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, continues to demonstrate how this nootropic (a supplement to improve cognitive and executive functioning, memory, etc.) has a multitude of health benefits.
Lion’s mane has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
This helps reduce the inflammation of the brain post-TBI causing foggy memories and lack of focus, as well as fighting off the free radicals which might damage your brain further.
Moreover, a study by the University of Malaya in Malaysia suggests lion’s mane has the ability to help regenerate damaged cells caused through a peripheral nerve injury.
Lion’s mane may also delay cell death and protect them from damage, according to various studies published by the National Institutes of Health.
Not only might all these properties help reverse the damage caused by TBI, but lion’s mane may also help protect and promote healthy brain cells and brain function.
This, naturally, stimulates cognitive functioning and memory, and at the same time might help counter the onset of degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s.
Research conducted by Kyushu University in Japan also suggests that lion’s mane can help get your circadian rhythms – informally known as your body clock – back in order and help you get better quality sleep.
This is imperative for learning, because when you get high quality sleep, your hippocampus and neocortex are active, reviewing and processing what you learned during the day and creating and strengthening neural pathways associated with this information.
Thus, sleep is essential for creating sound long-term memory.
Lion’s mane has tons of other health benefits for the rest of your body and overall health as well – but be sure to check with your doctor before incorporating the mushroom into your meals or using supplements!
2. Use Anti-Inflammatory Helpers
Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty acid which have a long history of significant scientific literature listing health benefits.
It is particularly beneficial for the brain, which is made up of 60% fat and a variety of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Among their many benefits, Omega-3 is credited with powerful anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory benefits – which you already know might help the brain recover from a concussion and improve cognitive functioning and memory.
Omega-3 PUFAs also provide neurotrophic support – neurotrophic factors promote the growth, maintenance and protection of developing and mature brain cells.
One of these is the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), which plays a prominent role in reversing cognitive and memory decline associated with aging, repairing and protecting damaged neurons, etc.
Not only do Omega-3 fatty acids help expand and enhance your brain’s neuroplasticity, it also makes possible something called neurogenesis – the creation of brand-new brain cells.
Although the rate at which new brain cells are created declines as you grow older, the human brain is very much capable of generating brand-new neurons.
The hippocampus, a part of the temporal lobe of your brain, plays a big part in learning and memory, and is one of the regions of the brain where adult neurogenesis occurs.
All of this works together to contribute to enhanced cognitive and executive functioning and sharper memory, as well as the ability to recover from damage caused by TBI.
Since a shrinking hippocampus is also associated with depression, stimulating growth and better functioning of this brain region may help reduce depressive symptoms.
Unfortunately, the brain can’t synthesize Omega-3 acids on its own, but you can consume Omega-3 fatty acids through a variety of food, including fatty fish like salmon, a very rich source of this nutrient.
If you are considering Omega-3 supplements, do consult your doctor first – this supplement has blood-thinning properties and you will want to know about any risks and side-effects before taking them.
In powdered form, you might have this yellow spice in your kitchen cupboard to brighten up a dish and give it a kick of flavor.
The benefits of turmeric – and specifically the compound curcumin that it contains – go beyond taste, however.
Curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory benefits.
It matches the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs, though you will have to consult your doctor about curcumin supplements, since turmeric on its own does not contain sufficient amounts of this compound.
Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant. Not only does it combat free radicals, but it also stimulates enzymes within your body that have anti-oxidative properties.
Another extraordinary benefit of curcumin is its ability to boost the brain’s levels of Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF).
This is a protein that plays a crucial role in neurogenesis – i.e. the creation of new neurons.
Subsequently, by protecting and helping grow and maintain neurons, your brain – including the hippocampus – is able to run more efficiently, improving your ability to learn and recall.
Turmeric has been associated with reducing depressive symptoms. Like Omega-3 fatty acids, by promoting new nerve cell growth, it can reverse a shrinking hippocampus.
Curcumin might also play a role in boosting production of the neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin (imbalances of which may contribute to depression).
These neurotransmitters play a very important role in learning and memory as well, and you’ll be seeing how a bit later in this article!
4. Use Eye Movements and Visit A Developmental or Neuro Optometrist to See if They Recommend Vision Therapy to Improve Reading and Learning
The eyes and brain are closely connected; the eyes are one of the biggest sensory receptors of stimuli that feed information to your brain.
Not only is it a source of collecting information for the brain, but the Eye-Brain Connection, (and a therapeutic technique known as EMDR), used by psychologists and therapists to help heal trauma, panic, anxiety, and PTSD, can also allow you to unlock the full potential of your memory at will.
Different visual memory eye positions, as covered in the educational Total Recall Learning ™ course, help you access different types of memory, which is at the core of learning and remembering anything.
TBI or concussions may adversely impact visual learning-related skills by making it difficult for you to track – i.e. follow a moving target across a printed page, or fixate, by focusing on words on a page. This will slow your reading down.
Other issues might include difficulty with peripheral vision, and the visual processing of information (which is the fastest and most effective way of understanding and retaining information).
As you can see, it’s very, very important to get your vision checked out after a concussion or TBI, to identify and address these issues as early as possible so they do not worsen or impact your learning.
A simple visit to the regular eye-doctor may not be enough.
There are specialists, known as behavioral, developmental or neurooptometrists who can evaluate you to see if you need some specific exercises known as “vision therapy”.
Many major league athletes take this type training to enhance their visual skills.
A developmental or neuro optometrist, who is specifically trained to identify and rehabilitate vision problems may be able to help you recover your visual skills faster with vision therapy – and the outcome of course, is that your learning abilities improve at the same time.
Visit COVD.org and input your zip code to find a specially trained developmental or neuro-optometrist.
5. Avoid Inflammatory Foods with Sugar or Trans Fats
While some foods, like fatty fish and turmeric, have incredible anti-inflammatory benefits, others are the opposite.
Consuming too much of these foods can lead to long-term damage to your cognitive functioning, memory and overall health.
With TBI, this may further damage your brain’s ability to repair, recover and/or relearn.
Refined sugars and carbohydrates
Sugary foods, like candy, pastries, sodas and so on, might give you a temporary boost (due to the chemical messenger dopamine, which plays a big role in focus and motivation).
However, they are also followed by a longer term “sugar crash” and dopamine deficit, leaving you feeling tired, unmotivated, unfocused, irritable, etc.
Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are highly inflammatory, and contribute to the sluggish running of your brain, inability to pay attention, and forgetfulness which you might experience after a “sugar rush.”
A relative of refined sugar, refined carbohydrates – which you might find in cakes, breads, and other processed foods – may also cause inflammation.
Refined carbs have their nutritional benefits removed due to the removal of the fibers within them, which help regulate things like blood sugar level.
As carbs are broken down into glucose – i.e. the most basic building block of sugar your cells use to grow and repair themselves – excessive blood sugar can lead to inflammation.
Others, such as trans fats, which are created by combining hydrogen and unsaturated fats, are extremely harmful for your health.
Not only do they cause inflammation in the brain, but they can also interfere with the good work your Omega-3 fatty acids are doing.
As a result, they contribute to brain fog, sluggishness and fatigue, inability to focus, and forgetfulness.
Trans fats have multiple adverse health implications that affect your whole body – including increasing the risk of heart disease, obesity, and higher cholesterol levels.
Subsequently, not only would they exacerbate any attempts to help heal your brain from TBI, they would worsen your overall health, wellbeing, and ability to learn.
Foods which contain trans fat include anything made with vegetable shortening and margarine: baked goodies, microwave popcorn, potato chips, crackers, cookies, frozen pizzas, refrigerated biscuits, most refined snacks like corn chips and many types of bars, fried foods, and some types of vegetable oils, such as soybean and canola oil.
The important thing is to read labels carefully. Trans fats, or hydrogenated fats, hide out in so many foods, under various names, it’s best to stick to more natural foods with ingredients you can pronouce.
6. Release the Happy, Feel Good Chemicals in Your Brain
Out of these, the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin play an essential role in cognitive functioning and learning.
Dopamine is also known as “the motivation molecule” – when dopamine levels spike, you experience a sense of satisfaction and reward, which sharpens your focus and encourages you to seek out the feeling again.
A decline in dopamine, which isn’t uncommon in chronic TBI cases, may lead to depression as well as damage your memory, attention and executive functions, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Meanwhile excessive levels of dopamine can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation.
In a 2019 article, the NIH posits, “Alterations in dopamine levels can impact cellular dysfunction and central nervous system (CNS) inflammation. Experimental evidence suggests that dopamine should be considered a first-line treatment to protect cerebral autoregulation and promote cerebral outcomes in TBI.”
In simpler terms, researchers continue to find evidence suggesting that stimulating dopamine pathways in the brain can speed up the healing process after TBI, and counter some of the cognitive side-effects a concussion might come with.
There are several safe and natural ways to boost dopamine in your system.
Chunking Learning or Tasks in General
Breaking a task down into smaller steps makes it more achievable than setting yourself a huge and difficult task.
By accomplishing a mini goal, your dopamine neurons become active, and as a result, you begin to anticipate this same sense of reward and satisfaction trying to tick off the next item on your to-do list.
This sense of motivation and focus primes your brain for better learning and memory, especially as researchers continue to find evidence of how dopamine regulates several parts of the brain involved in learning and memory.
This includes the hippocampus, as well as the prefrontal cortex, which performs many roles including focus, long-term planning, complex problem-solving, etc.
Therefore, by boosting your body’s dopamine levels in a natural and safe way (such as through the steps in the chart below) the brain may be able to boost cognitive functioning and memory and heal faster.
At the same time, stabilizing a healthy level of dopamine can reduce depressive symptoms as well.
When you’re doused in cold water, the blood vessels in your body contract and then rush to speed up your blood circulation, to warm you up and make sure the cold doesn’t slow your vitals down.
This rush of blood also reaches your brain, and your neurons have a rich supply of oxygenated blood to help them work faster and more efficiently.
Not only does this help boost brain health and repair, among these neurons are your dopamine neurons.
And according to researchers, a cold shower can increase your dopamine levels by 250%!
There are other benefits to cold showers as well – it helps reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, which together with the higher dopamine levels can boost your learning, memory and recovery from TBI.
When you breathe deeply and slowly, you stimulate the longest cranial nerve in your body, the vagus nerve. It runs all the way from your brain to your abdomen. (A quick memory tip to remember the vagus nerve – think viva Las Vegas and how stimulating the lights of Las Vegas are).
This nerve is the control center of the parasympathetic nervous system – (which calms you, as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system which makes you hyper-alert to danger and is also a stressor due to the involuntary responses raising your heart rate, etc.).
In the parasympathetic nervous system you have significant control over your lungs.
So when you slowly breathe in and out, you start a chain reaction – it stimulates the vagus nerve, which then sends signals to slow your heartbeat and pulse down, decrease blood pressure, relax your muscles, etc.
If you’re in an agitated or anxious state, simple breathing exercises, like inhaling slowly and deeply for 4 counts, holding it in, and then exhaling it slowly for 4 counts, and doing this at least ten times, can restore your equilibrium.
Focused breathing affects the brain as well – as your vagus nerve is stimulated, your brain enters an alpha brain wave state, where you feel alert, focused, but also relaxed.
This is the most optimum state for learning, creating a situation where you are calm, focused, motivated (because of the dopamine levels triggered during this state) and can speed up recovery from TBI.
Among its many roles, serotonin regulates important functions such as mood, sleep, memory and motor functions.
A 2018 study suggests that serotonin not only helps put you in a great mood, but also speeds up your learning or improves the efficiency of learning and long-term memory.
Regulating your sleep cycle also ensures your hippocampus and neocortex get enough time to consolidate your learning into your long-term memory, as you have already learned.
By boosting the brain’s neuroplasticity in this manner, serotonin may not only succeed in reducing depressive symptoms but also enhancing the brain’s ability to learn and perform cognitively.
As with dopamine, there are several natural and safe ways to boost serotonin, some of which you will cover in this article, or in the chart below!
7. Naturally Heal Concussions with Light Exercise
A simple walk around the block, some light stretches, etc., activates the neurons and these neurotransmitters circulate your system, improving your mood, concentration and focus.
It also boosts the delivery of oxygen-rich blood to your brain, which, along with the serotonin and dopamine, work on the various brain regions involved in learning and memory and promote their growth, health and functioning.
Exercise does not have to entail anything hardcore or strenuous – remember, you can regulate your dopamine levels by chunking your tasks or goals down into smaller goals and tasks, with cold showers, etc.
Instead of walking 10,000 steps from the get-go, set yourself a goal of 1,000 steps first, and gradually increase this goal as your brain and body adjusts, adapts and develops.
You will find yourself more motivated as well as more clear-headed when you engage with new learning, because you’re enabling your brain to improve its functioning capabilities by looking after your body!
8. Use Music to Give Your Brain a Boost and Help Speed Healing
There is a science-backed reason to this – listening to music you love and enjoy can boost dopamine levels in your brain, which in turn can help you encode memories of what you are learning, and stimulate cognitive functioning, far more efficiently!
Also, when you listen to a specific type of music, at 60 beats per minute without any lyrics, your brain switches into the alpha brain wave state.
Out of the four brain wave states – alpha, beta, delta, and theta – the alpha brain wave state is the most optimum for new learning to occur which I discuss in my course, Total Recall Learning™.
It’s similar to how you feel when you’ve woken up after a good night’s rest (another reason why quality sleep is so important) – calm, relaxed, yet alert, and therefore fully ready to focus and learn.
9. Naturally Heal Concussions by Using Full Spectrum Lighting
In fact, in studies about full spectrum lighting, student grades improved in classrooms with full spectrum lighting, even when no other variables existed.
Normal light bulbs emit a yellowish tone and those flourescent light bulbs found in many offices and even garages, vibrate at a certain refresh rate and can cause headaches, agitation and nervousness.
So make sure you replace all the lighting in your home with full spectrum lights. You can get them from stores such as Lowes.
In the evening, you want amber, yellowish type of lighting that calms you and lets your body know it is time for bed. I use lamps from a company called Verilux which can switch from full spectrum daylight to evening light that is better for your circadian rhythm.
Good quality sleep is an integral part of your brain’s process for learning, remembering, repairing and remaining healthy.
So keep in mind, if you are spending a lot of time on your devices with blue-lit screens, or your home has poor light quality, it might be what’s causing you difficulties falling asleep at night.
You can use colored overlays or other app-related filters on your devices, to reduce the visual strain on your eyes and brain.
Most laptops, tablets and phones these days let you automate when you want your screens to switch to a yellow filter, so you can set this for sundown.
Giving your brain the time to wind down, relax, and get healthy sleep is a critical part of learning and remembering, and therefore improving and maintaining the health and cognitive functioning of your brain.
10. Take Courses on How to Learn
But for effective learning to occur, you also need effective and proven learning strategies.
Since schools tell students what to learn but don’t show them how to learn it, so both kids and adults don’t naturally have the skills they need to easily and quickly learn new things and remember them.
Not having these strategies accounts for why students in the same classroom, doing the same subjects and writing the same tests, perform differently.
Recently, I received a lovely email from a woman in Pennsylvania, who had suffered a serious TBI during a car accident. She told me that she learned more in just the first four days of the Total Recall Learning™ course, than she had in the previous seven months of rehab with multiple doctors and therapists.
So if you are healing from a concussion, consider taking a course on ‘how to learn’, read and remember everything. The strategies are all science backed by brain research and can make a huge difference speeding your overall learning recovery, as well as improving your reading and memory skills.
By knowing how to learn, you can adjust to and succeed in any new learning environment and feel confident in doing so because you have a proven formula to rely on, every single time.
And because these strategies are all backed by brain science, they are optimized to help you tap into your full potential, and unlock your learning genius and memory. This is all thanks to the wonderful neuroplasticity of your brain!
Hopefully these 10 natural ways to help heal concussions, according to scientists, has built up your knowledge about many of the neuroscience-backed ways the brain can recover from TBI.
However, do remember that I am not a medical doctor, and before choosing to commit to any of these strategies, it is imperative you consult with your doctor first.
Pat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, such as Total Recall Learning™.
Her superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books and is also a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!