Traumatic brain injury. That sounds like something life threatening, and it certainly can be. But almost everyone knows someone who has sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) because one of the most common types of TBI is known as a concussion. Though our understanding about the brain is still very limited, we are learning and our recommendations for managing a concussion have changed over the decades.
Understanding Traumatic Brain Injuries
Whenever someone sustains an injury to their head, such as being hit by a ball, falling, or getting in a car accident, it’s always important to assess whether a traumatic brain injury (TBI) has occurred. TBIs can even happen when there is no actual impact on the head, such as with whiplash, because the brain can hit the inside of the skull with sudden, severe, and jarring force.
How do you know if you’ve suffered a TBI? If you’ve sustained a blow or jarring force to the head, it’s important to get checked out and pay attention to symptoms over the next few days. Common symptoms include headaches, nausea or vomiting, confusion, problems concentrating, forgetfulness or memory loss, double vision or blurred vision, sensitivity to light or sound, dizziness, balance problems, ringing in the ears, light-headedness, changes in sleep patterns, fatigue, or changes in mood. Whether someone has lost consciousness or not after a TBI doesn’t necessarily indicate the severity of a concussion, but repeated TBIs do appear to have increasing effects.
What to Do After a TBI—Active Rehabilitation
While we used to recommend lying down in a dark room and practicing complete rest until the symptoms go away, we’ve learned that active rehabilitation is a better route to take. Because the initial stages of a TBI cause inflammation, it is helpful wait to return to exercise for three to five days after the injury, depending on the severity of your injury and symptoms.
Then, a gradual return of no-impact exercise will help speed up recovery. This means activities like stationary bike, elliptical machine, or low-impact calisthenics workout (e.g., squats, knee raises, lunges, shoulder tap planks) to raise the heartrate, but not running or impact sports. Note the use of the word “gradual return.” If you get dizzy or experience pain or other troubling symptom while doing this, then try different activities, go easier, or do your exercises in short intervals.
Right after your exercise, challenge your brain with a bit of reading, a crossword, memory games, or other non-screen cognitive activity. Because exercise causes a release in neurochemicals like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), you’ll experience more cognitive benefits after physical exercise. Again, take breaks as you need.
Calm Your Nervous System
Because a TBI can stimulate a prolonged stress response, practicing ways to calm the nervous system can be key to healing. Meditation, breathwork, soothing music, and relaxed visualization are all examples of ways to promote a feeling of calm. While many think that watching tv, scrolling through social media, reading online articles, and playing games on the phone are relaxing, it’s best to avoid or limit time on backlit screens such as televisions, computers, tablets, and smart phones.
The Power of Reishi Mushroom
Reishi, also known as Ganoderma lucidum, is a medicinal mushroom widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It has been revered for centuries for its potent healing properties.
Neuroprotective Effects and Reduced Inflammation
Reishi mushrooms are rich in bioactive compounds like triterpenes and polysaccharides that exhibit potent anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. These properties help reduce inflammation and prevent further damage to the brain following an injury.
Promoting Brain Health and Regeneration
Reishi mushrooms also have the potential to promote brain health and regeneration. They contain compounds that may stimulate the production of nerve growth factors, supporting the growth and regeneration of brain cells. This rejuvenation process can aid in the recovery from traumatic brain injuries and facilitate the restoration of normal brain functions.
Enhancing Cognitive Function
Another interesting property of reishi is its potential to enhance cognitive function and improve memory and learning. This effect can be particularly advantageous for individuals recovering from traumatic brain injuries, as it may speed up the cognitive healing process.
Calms the Nervous System
TCM classifies reishi mushrooms as a substance that “Calms the Spirit/Mind,” and this is one of its key benefits when used to address a traumatic brain injury. A TBI can create dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), leading to prolonged symptoms from the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system. All the symptoms listed above that are often associated with TBIs can be caused by this dysregulation.
Reishi mushrooms have been used by Taoist monks for centuries to help them move into the rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous system state for meditative practice and centred calmness. Today we recognize reishi mushrooms as being adaptogenic, meaning they can help the body adapt to a wide variety of stressors, returning the body to a balanced state known as homeostasis.
Traumatic brain injuries can be life-altering, but nature provides us with incredible resources for healing. Reishi mushrooms, with their neuroprotective effects and ability to support brain health, offer promise as a natural treatment option for TBIs. While further research is needed, considering reishi as part of a holistic approach to recovery can have significant benefits.