During med school, over 20 years ago, we were taught the brain was irreparable. The common wisdom said, “We are born with a certain number of neurons, and once the brain is damaged it will not regenerate.” We now know this is far from the truth.
How can we use this knowledge to our advantage by applying it to brain damage like stroke? The first thing you need to know is that the brain is dynamic and recoverable. This is amazing news and I would like to give some tips on speeding its recovery from not only stroke, but concussions/traumatic brain injuries.
Clean up the damage
The type of stroke we are talking about in this article is ischemic stroke, where, due to deprivation of blood flow, part of the brain suffers nerve cell death. Anytime there is damage to body tissues, the normal inflammation cascade causes mediation of both living and dead cells. The body needs to clean up the resulting dead tissue in order to re-establish healthy cells. The key here is controlling the amount of inflammation in this cleanup process, as cleanup of damaged cells can cause more inflammation.
To aid in this modulation, it is helpful to increase the housekeeper cells (monocytes/macrophages) in order to clean up the garbage bags (neutrophils) before they burst and create even more inflammation. Chronic inflammation prevents nerve cell growth, as it just keeps creating more and more trash bags (Neutrophils) which keep bursting because we are not recruiting house cleaners (Monocytes). How do we recruit more monocytes to clean up and ultimately tame chronic inflammation and create a healing environment?
- Resveratrol Xtra, 1 caps twice a day
- Meriva Curcumin, 1 caps twice a day. It also has anticoagulant affects so would help with prevention of future ischemia, but be sure to discuss with your provider or pharmacist if you are already on anticoagulant.
- O.N.E. Omega (EPA/DHA) 1 cap twice a day. This is also a blood thinner and, therefore, not recommended for hemorrhagic stroke patients. (Again, be sure to discuss with your provider or pharmacist if you are already on anticoagulant.
- CogniMag 1 capsule twice a day
Sleep is the best way to shift the inflammation away from continued damage and is important in stroke recovery. Melatonin SR is a great way to calm the brain, aiding in the falling asleep process, which is difficult after traumatic events. It works best when taken 2-3 hours before bedtime.
Having a stroke is a stressful event, and can take its toll on the adrenal glands, which supply the body with energy during the day. Supplements like Phyto ADR can help enable stroke patients to participate in therapies as well as reestablish a normal circadian rhythm. Taking this supplement at morning and noon times will supply the energy it takes to begin recovery.
Eat whole foods
Many papers now show that a processed food diet and especially ultra-processed foods (Twinkies, packaged meals, etc.) are the fastest train to inflammation and shortened life span. A Mediterranean diet is basically a whole foods diet with focus on whole fruits and vegetables. Changing diet is the most important factor in decreasing inflammation.
Support Nerve Growth.
Neuroplasticity is the key in brain damage recovery. Neuroplasticity is the ability to grow new neurons and regain function in damaged areas of the brain. As well as establishing the right environment, step 1 (above) is so important. To help nerve growth a neurotransmitter called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is essential. The following are ways to increase BDNF.
- Low dose lithium, 5 mg twice a day (essential mineral)
- Resveratrol Xtra, 1 cap twice a day (potent anti-inflammatory found in red wine)
- Meriva Curcumin, 1 cap twice a day (potent anti-inflammatory found in the herb turmeric)
Sleep is the most regenerative thing we can do. It is when we prune dead growth in the brain and make way for the new. If you are not getting 8 hours a night, it is important to make sleep a main focus for recovery.
There’s a lot of good literature out there that shows patients who establish an exercise program that’s tailored to their injury see much improved status and speedier recovery.
It has been officially quantified: Positive thought creates new connections and increases BDNF and associated new nerve growth. Meditation and/or prayer are great ways to create this new nerve growth. If these feel difficult at first, begin with gratitude. Whether you journal it or express it to family and friends, there is no downside to reaching for the feeling of gratitude.
Create long term health
One of my biggest areas of frustration in the medical world is that we send people out after a heart attack, cancer, or a stroke and never address the most important thing: We could make a difference for the future if the environment that allowed this to happen in the first place is changed!
- Exercise 3 times a week, 15-30 mins where you get a little sweat. Keep the blood running and the body detoxing.
- Good diet– see above
Those patients who have a community where they can share and belong, fare better long term with all illness than those who stay isolated in their process. Community is a powerful tool for preventing future disease, whether it is a support group or a counselor to speak to regularly. One good friend can change your life.
These are all relatively inexpensive ways to take charge of your recovery and long term health. They are powerful and literature supported. Your brain can and will heal at an accelerated rate by implementing some or all of the above recommendations. Do what you can, when you can.