Brain Injury: What You Probably Don't Know

Have you ever had a concussion? Been in a bad car accident? Suffered a sports-related head injury? Many of us have experienced some kind of brain injury in our lives. What you should know is that a head injury may have contributed to your chronic illness. Chronic conditions can be a direct result of brain trauma.

It is not uncommon for someone who experiences a concussion, auto accident or other type of head trauma to begin to experience additional illness within a short period of time. Fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, personality changes and other symptoms may begin to appear after a head injury [1], but much of the time these are not recognized as a result of the trauma, which can be frustrating for someone trying to find the “how” or “why” of the way they feel. However, all degrees of brain trauma can have the potential to affect our health and well-being for years or even decades.

Some of us have thicker skulls than others, both literally and figuratively. So it's not likely you have spent much time thinking about how fragile the brain really is. For instance, we understand that extreme traumatic brain injury (TBI) is serious because it obviously results in visible physical impairment. However, in mild or moderate injury, the trauma is not so obvious. For this reason, most people (including some medical practitioners) consider non-extreme or mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) as inconsequential in the long run because they see no symptoms proportional to those in TBI. [2]

Some of the more common and immediate symptoms of MTBI include: loss of consciousness, headaches, dizziness, irritability, difficulty in concentration, confusion, nausea, vomiting, vision disturbance and retrograde or anterograde amnesia. [1] In most cases these symptoms don’t last for very long though so it is assumed there is then no lasting damage. And for most brain injuries this is true. But in some cases, these minor brain injuries result in years of ongoing chronic health issues. To understand why, we need to introduce you some areas of the brain, the hypothalamus, pituitary glands and the adrenal glands. [3]



The Hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is part of the HPA axis, which consists of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. These glands all work together and rely on one another. When one is malfunctioning, all are compromised and our health pays the price.

According to Medline Plus, the hypothalamus is an area of the brain that produces hormones that control thirst, hunger, body temperature, sleep, moods, sex drive, and the release of hormones from various glands, primarily the pituitary gland. [4] The hypothalamus regulates homeostasis in the human body.

In other words, it is in charge of making sure that everything in our bodies is always in balance, no matter what state we are in. It plays the key role in numerous functions and is a major link to the endocrine (hormone) and nervous systems. Damage to this structure results in disturbances in the production and regulation of our hormones, and can have a negative yet, initially, subtle effect on our health.

One of the primary results of damage to the hypothalamus is sleep disturbance. A majority of sleep disorders have been associated with all degrees of brain injury, including trouble falling/staying asleep, non-restorative sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. [5] All of these can be symptomatic of chronic conditions as well, and the correlation should not be overlooked. With this in mind, one example of a head injury possibly leading to a chronic condition would be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.



The Pituitary

Since the hypothalamus secretes hormones to stimulate hormone release from the pituitary gland, it is not surprising that functions related to this gland are negatively affected by a brain injury as well. The full impact of brain trauma on the pituitary gland has been under-identified and under-researched until rather recently, but it has now been fairly well established. [2,6]

The reason that the pituitary gland can adversely affect health is that it controls growth hormones and thyroid hormones and can lead to deficiencies in both. These kinds of deficiencies are indicative of what is called hypopituitarism. Growth hormone deficiency (GHD) can result in significant alterations in body composition, decreased muscular strength, low exercise capacity, and diminished bone mineral content, as well as impairments in the sense of well-being and quality of life. Thyroid hormone deficiencies are referred to as hypothyroidism and can drain a sufferer of energy and well-being, as well as cause more serious chronic conditions.



The Adrenals

Since the hypothalamus and pituitary glands control the adrenal glands, it is also important to look at how insufficiencies in these can contribute to chronic illness. The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys and are chiefly responsible for regulating the body’s stress response. They do this by secreting cortisol and adrenaline, or in other words, by stimulating our fight or flight response. When these glands are malfunctioning there are many things that can be negatively affected. [3]

One of the chronic conditions associated with adrenal insufficiency is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, which is characterized by the decreased ability of the adrenals to secrete the hormones that they usually do. Cortisol and adrenaline are critical to maintaining optimal health, because they respond to our bodies’ stress levels. When they are not functioning properly it can lead to immune deficiencies and more serious chronic conditions as well.



SPECT and the Amen Clinic

Probably the best way to determine whether you have experienced brain trauma is be evaluated by the Amen Clinic. The Amen Clinic uses SPECT scans (single photon emission computed tomography) to image the metabolism of the brain. Brain trauma and other brain conditions can be readily diagnosed using SPECT scans. SPECT is one of the best tools for evaluating functional deficits from head trauma that are often not seen by other studies, leading to more understanding and more effective treatments for patients. [7] While it is still rather expensive, your results may serve as an excellent, tangible resource.



So what can I do now?

Since the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenals control your hormone levels, it is important to get checked for hormone imbalances and to perhaps work with a specialized doctor on getting them in correct balance again. It is important to have your hormones in balance so that all the functions that your body needs to carry out are actually executed. Without every function, response or secretion, your optimal health is compromised, so don’t ignore hormonal imbalances. However, it is also very important to not self-medicate hormone imbalances, as hormones are very complicated and delicately balanced elements of your health. Having said this, there are supplements in the natural realm that can improve symptoms and aid brain recovery such as Brain Support, 5-HTP, L-Tyrosine, Activated B, and Omega-3 Fish Oil (now only available in our Jigsaw Complete).

Also, as shown by a SPECT scan, brain trauma can lead to psychological problems as well. It is wise then to seek answers in the psychiatric arena. There are many doctors in this field that recognize the impact brain injuries can have on mental health and well-being. There are certain psychotropic drugs which are used very effectively in treating conditions like depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances and can provide more immediate relief to these unpleasant symptoms.



In Conclusion

While the occurrence of chronic conditions as a result of brain injury is not yet well recognized, the connection exists. Armed with this information we encourage you to talk with your doctor or health care professional in hopes of discovering if a minor brain injury might be the cause of any ongoing chronic conditions you may be experiencing.



Cited Sources:

  1. Gilley V: Concussions serious injury, must be treated with care.
  2. Croft A: Pituitary Dysfunction After Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Dynamic Chiropractic; March 26, 2005.
  3. Bernard F, Outtrim J, Menon D, Matta B: Incidence of adrenal insufficiency after severe traumatic brain injury varies according to definition used: clinical implications. British Journal of Anaesthesia, 2006 96(1):72-76.
  4. Hurd R: Hypothalamus. Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia, last updated April 26, 2007.
  5. Drake A, Bradshaw D: Sleep Disturbances Following Traumatic Brain Injury. Defense and Veterans Head Injury Program, 1999 3(4). (pg. 33 on PDF version).
  6. Acerini C, Tasker R, Bellone S, et al: Hypopituitarism in childhood and adolescence following traumatic brain injury: the case for prospective endocrine investigation. European Journal of Endocrinology, 2006; 155(5):663-669.
  7. Abdel-Dayem HM et al: SPECT Brain Perfusion Findings in Mild or Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury. Alasbimn Journal, 2000 2(6):Article Nº AJ06-3.


 

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