Improving Emotional Problems After Brain Injury

Posted on June 28, 2022

Every year, most traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in the United States are mild to moderate concussions. Patients walk out of emergency rooms with diagnoses such as neck sprains, coup contrecoup injuries, whiplash, etc. These are just a few descriptions of those with a possibility of mild to moderate traumatic brain injury. Many of these patients will recover, which is good news.

However, brain injury is known as an invisible injury because what others see from the outside can resemble normalcy for months. However, what might be developing behind the scenes is a health crisis our conventional medical system may be unprepared to discuss, recognize, and successfully treat.

Symptoms from microscopic brain damage and concussion can flow throughout many parts of the brain and body.

A multitude of studies has shown the breakdown of the gut-brain axis and our enteric nervous system after a traumatic brain injury. Damage to the bidirectional highway linking our brain to our gut has become a leading topic surrounding the severity of secondary injury effects from a TBI. 

Chronic inflammation after a traumatic brain injury can leave patients prone to troubles with emotions, inflammatory digestive disorders, autoimmunity, and ongoing health difficulties for years.

Healing the gut-brain axis could be a crucial factor in improving emotional problems after brain injury.

How are emotions related to our gut?

Many forms of concussions cause several complications, such as hormonal imbalance, adrenal insufficiency, and chronic gut problems. Our body’s inflammatory response can disrupt the central and enteric nervous system, along with altering the signals within the vagus nerve linking our brain to our gut. 

Studies connect brain injury and the gut-brain connection to depression, anxiety, and multiple intestinal disorders such as SIBO, leaky gut, numerous food allergies, and chronic IBS. Even a mild concussion can disturb the delicate balance of our gut microbiota. A traumatic brain injury can also trigger the decline of “dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, or gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA),” altering the brain’s neurotransmitter production that regulates behavior and emotions.

Physicians in the field of functional health who specialize in brain injury focus on finding and healing the root of the problem. A functional health physician may start by ordering specialized laboratory blood tests to determine the health of the patient’s blood-brain barrier and intestinal environment. 

Consuming foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as brain-healthy foods, staying hydrated by drinking lots of water and avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and drugs can substantially improve gut health and, in turn, improve emotional health. 

Additional testing recommendations for hormone and micronutrient deficiencies could reveal vital information for patient recovery. With the staggering number of traumatic brain injuries occurring each year worldwide, the field of neurogastroenterology could be another ray of hope for many brain injury survivors who suffer from ongoing intestinal dysfunction. 

Integrative doctors may suggest patients start an anti-inflammatory diet, reduce stress, exercise for improved blood flow, and get adequate sleep every night. Improving emotional problems after a brain injury by working with a qualified cognitive-behavioral therapist to learn the practice of emotional regulation techniques will establish a well-rounded routine aimed at improving daily functioning and long-term health.