Currently, the widely accepted and established treatment for concussions is rest. A recent study done at the Xuan Wu hospital in Beijing found that decreasing caloric intake reduces some of the negative effects post-concussion, while excess caloric intake is a risk factor for people recovering from a brain injury.

Concussions, or mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), are caused by a blow to the head that results in jarring and damage to the brain. Following the injury, there are a variety of symptoms that may arise, ranging from headache to difficulty paying attention. Two notable symptoms experienced by some are a notable decline in cognitive function and inflammation in the brain (neuroinflammation), and treatment is often just rest and a break from strenuous activity – though these are effective at alleviating symptoms, recent research has been devoted towards more active treatment options.

One such study was conducted at the Xuan Wu hospital in Beijing, China, which tested the effect of caloric intake on cognitive function of mice with induced mild traumatic brain injury. The study used 45 mice separated by diet (caloric restriction, normal calorie and high energy group) that were subsequently put through various tests for cognitive function. The researchers found that the mice with caloric restriction were able to perform the Morris water maze test, intended for spatial learning and memory, with much less latency, while the high energy group performed slower. Analysis of the hippocampus afterwards showed decreased astrocyte activation in the caloric restriction group. Astrocyte activation leads to neuroinflammation, putting pressure on the brain and exacerbating cognitive decline. The researchers also examined a marker for autophagy, or the destruction of the cell, and found increased autophagy levels in the caloric restriction group. Likely in cases of mild traumatic brain injury, autophagy acts as a neuroprotective mechanism to eliminate unwanted protein aggregates, as well as discard cellular waste.

The important takeaway from this study is that restricting caloric intake can minimize neuroinflammation and cellular injury and mitigate cognitive dysfunction caused by mild traumatic brain injury. Conversely, high energy intake can become a risk factor for people recovering from mTBI, slowing the cognitive impairment and recovery process.

Behavioural Brain Research, 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2017.04.024