Many of us have had concussions in the past and know just different this injury is from others. Re-occurring dizziness and nausea, chronic headaches - concussions really suck. Even once we've recovered from the day-to-day obstacles, long-term effects can be severe and include mood swings, depression, or early-onset dementia. This post will dive into the science behind concussions and highlight a recent study that investigated whether astaxanthin may help long-term recovery.
Brain chemistry changes rapidly when a concussion occurs. In order to make an effective treatment plan, the mechanisms behind this need to be understood.
First, neurotransmitters get released in disproportionate amounts. This leads to a disruption in the cell membrane - which is responsible for internal communication (2). This causes a disconnect between brain cells. Another hallmark feature of a concussion are damaged mitochondria (3, 4). Mitochondria are the part of the cell responsible for energy production and when they become compromised, excess free radicals are formed, resulting in lower energy production. Throughout a concussion, we see a heightened inflammatory response, a breakdown in intra-brain communication, and in some cases, a loss of brain cells (1,4).
Inflammation is the body’s response to trauma or injury and it promotes healing. The release of inflammatory molecules we see in a concussion is necessary, as without inflammation, the damage from concussions would be far more substantial. It only becomes problematic when the inflammatory processes don’t switch off.
Research is now highlighting a neuroimmune response in those who have suffered from concussions. When the brain’s immune system is in overdrive, it releases inflammatory compounds. After a concussion this increased immune response can last for months - leading to chronic inflammation (1,4). We previously discussed how age-related inflammation in the brain can contribute to neuro-degenerative conditions like brain fog, memory loss, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Holistic healing of a concussion focuses on restoring mitochondrial health, increasing the number of brain cells and calming chronic inflammation in the brain. With this in mind, astaxanthin is a top contender for concussion treatment.
It supports the mitochondria through various pathways. It not only helps to keep them structurally intact but it also offsets the damage from dysfunctional mitochondria (5).
Astaxanthin has been shown to increase proteins in the brain that upregulate the growth of new brain cells (6).
Astaxanthin is well known as an anti-inflammatory compound. It can cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore has been shown to reduce inflammation directly in neural tissue. In addition to this, astaxanthin has been shown to calm down over-activation of the brain’s immune cells- preventing excessive inflammation (6,7).
Research on astaxanthin and concussions is in its infancy but shows promise:
The neuroprotective effects of astaxanthin, in theory, counter some of the physiological damages from a concussion. As research on astaxanthin and brain health is gains traction, it may prove to be of clinical significance for concussion treatment.
There’s no way around it, a concussion is a brain injury and it needs to be treated like one. The classic prescription of rest may help resolve acute symptoms - but rest does little in the way of long-term effects, such as neurodegenerative diseases and mood imbalances. The ramifications of a concussion extend beyond the initial days, or even months after the trauma - therefore a proactive approach to concussion care is needed.
The good news is, the brain has the ability to heal itself. It can grow new neurons and establish new pathways of communication - therefore it’s never too late to treat past concussions!
#1 - Patterson, Z. R., & Holahan, M. R. (2012). Understanding the neuroinflammatory response following concussion to develop treatment strategies. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience, 6, 58. doi:10.3389/fncel.2012.00058 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3520152/
#2 - Mullaly, W. J. (2017). Concussion. Journal of the Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine, 130, 885. doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2017.04.016 - https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(17)30482-5/fulltext
#3 - Petraglia, A. L., Winkler, E. A., & Bailes, J. E. (2011). Stuck at the bench: Potential natural neuroprotective compounds for concussion. Surgical neurology international, 2, 146. doi:10.4103/2152-7806.85987 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3205506/
#4 - Giza, C. & Hovda, D. (2001). The Neurometabolic Cascade of Concussion. Journal of Athletic Training, 36: 228-235. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC155411/
#5 - Kim, S. H., & Kim, H. (2018). Inhibitory Effect of Astaxanthin on Oxidative Stress-Induced Mitochondrial Dysfunction-A Mini-Review. Nutrients, 10(9), 1137. doi:10.3390/nu10091137 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6165470/
#6 - Syed Obaidur Rahman, Bibhu Prasad Panda, Suhel Parvez, Madhu Kaundal, Salman Hussain, Mohd. Akhtar, Abul Kalam Najmi. (2019). Neuroprotective role of astaxanthin in hippocampal insulin resistance induced by Aβ peptides in animal model of Alzheimer’s disease.Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 110, 46-58. doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2018.11.043. - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0753332218343695
#7 - Grimmig, B., Kim, S. H., Nash, K., Bickford, P. C., & Douglas Shytle, R. (2017). Neuroprotective mechanisms of astaxanthin: a potential therapeutic role in preserving cognitive function in age and neurodegeneration. GeroScience, 39(1), 19–32. doi:10.1007/s11357-017-9958-x
#8 - Ji, X., Peng, D., Zhang, Y., Zhang, J., Wang, Y., Gao, Y., Lu, N., & Tang P. (2017) Astaxanthin improves cognitive performance in mice following mild traumatic brain injury. Brain Research, 1659: 88-95. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2016.12.031. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28048972