Poor nutrition can hamper Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) recovery, yet its role is still viewed as insignificant compared to physical rehabilitation techniques. According to Chroma, the UK’s leading national provider of arts therapy services, nutrition needs to be considered an integral part of the rehabilitation process.
Fatigue, gut health, weight management and tissue viability can all be adversely affected by inadequate nutrition, and as a result Chroma has started to work with Specialist Nutrition Rehabilitation dietitian, Sheri Taylor to ensure nutrition is fundamental in the recovery treatment plan.
Sheri Taylor, director of Specialist Nutrition Rehab states: “Those recovering from a brain injury need to eat foods with a high nutritional value, including lean protein, vegetables, fruit, calcium-rich foods and healthy fats, to help the brain and body heal and recover.
“Consider the body like a house and a brain injury like a hurricane which has come though and caused a considerable amount of damage. To repair this damage, you need high quality supplies, such as lean protein, vegetables, fruit, calcium-rich foods and healthy fats, which are the nutritional equivalent of bricks and mortar. Takeaways, ready meals, toast, biscuits and sandwiches are the nutritional equivalent of duct tape and cardboard, with less ability to support significant lasting repairs.”
Fatigue following a brain injury, known as Pathological Fatigue, severely impacts on the ability to carry out activities especially those associated with rehabilitation.
Causes of pathological fatigue vary from depression and anxiety to poor nutrition and cognitive difficulties. Nutrition and hydration should be the starting point for recovery. According to Taylor a deficiency in iron/b12/folate/vitamin D, dehydration, blood sugar fluctuations, thyroid problems or electrolyte imbalance can all increase fatigue.
“Some foods such as refined grain products do not maintain energy levels for prolonged periods of time compared to other foods such as porridge and legumes, which contain fibre to help slow down the release of sugar and so maintain energy levels for longer. Drinking plenty of water also helps keeps the brain and body hydrated which is another important factor to help everything work effectively.”
Gut issues such as constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal distension and bloating are also very common after a brain injury. Animal studies have found brain trauma can make the intestine more permeable, potentially allowing harmful microbes to migrate from the intestine to other areas of the body, causing infection or inflammation which may impair their overall recovery progress.
Adjusting the diet in ways to nourish the bowel by consuming foods rich in probiotics (such as yogurt with live bacteria), as well as prebiotic-rich fruits and vegetables can help improve overall gut health.
Additionally, consuming foods high in nutritional value ensure that their skin stays healthy and that wounds heal quicker, particularly after any type of surgery. Vitamins, minerals and protein-rich foods such as nuts, eggs, chicken, soy or plant-based protein have been shown to support skin healing.
Chroma is encouraging clinicians to add nutrition to the patient assessment process.
Daniel Thomas, joint managing director of Chroma, adds: “Nutritional assessment is a simple yet effective way to help educate the client, family and friends on the benefits of healthy eating during recovery as weight gain or loss can adversely affect the recovery progress.
“Clients should be assessed for malnutrition at their initial assessment as a client's weight could prevent them from having surgery that they need. The assessments will also help clients understand the consequences of their food choices.
“We cannot expect the brain and body to heal and recover consuming foods with poor nutritional value. To facilitate TBI recovery, patients must consume a highly nutritional, varied, healthy balanced diet to effectively improve recovery time and help progress rehabilitation outcomes.”