Concussion Care

Concussion Care

by Danielle Daniel, LCSW, Doctor of Clinical Psychology Student

*Beyond Concussion Care and Essential Oils

 I have had a long-term interest in American Football.  As a child I loved to watch Jerry Rice and Joe Montana from the 49ers, and of course my local San Diego Chargers.  A few years ago, former San Diego Charger Junior Seau, committed suicide with a bullet to the chest.  This had a big impact, we commonly saw him prior to this at his local sports restaurant, and this news was shocking. This tragic death stirred my interest in studies on the brain and specifically the effects from concussions and traumatic brain injuries. Concussions can happen to many athletes in high impact sports or anytime there is a direct hit to the head such as cheerleading, basketball, rugby, soccer, or even a single accident in a car, bike or tripping and falling onto the ground.

 Concussions, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and even mild concussions, have various immediate and long term damage that can occur in the brain. The CDC reported in 2009, that 2.4 million people suffer a TBI with 75% of those being mild.  Mild concussions easily go unnoticed and especially untreated. Even mild concussions however can cause long-term effects in our brain.

 Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a neurodegenerative brain disease, that develops in individuals years after being involved in contact sports, who have had repeated concussions. The long-term effects show neurological decline in many areas such as memory, mood, movement, and even to the development of Parkinson’s like symptoms and dementia. 

 Many NFL players are raising awareness to this concern through traumatic suicide deaths.  Former Chicago Bear, Dave Duerson, shot himself in the chest in 2011, so as to preserve his brain for research studies, as well as former linebacker Junior Seau for the San Diego Chargers in May 2012.  The National Institute of Health discovered that Seau did suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, as well as Duerson. One study took brain tissue of 34 professional football players who had passed away, and found evidence of this disease in all of them but one. 

 Concussions and TBI’s can cause brain damage, emotional imbalance, permanent cognitive disorders, learning disabilities, onset of psychiatric symptoms, especially that of behaviors and mood disorders and even death when intracranial hemorrhaging is severe.  There are multiple processes that occur at the moment of impact to the brain or skull, and if acted upon immediately, can have protective actions for neurological processes and aide in avoiding many long-term effects.  I have broken down the greatest factors from research so as to understand an immediate response method.

 Glial limitans are the outermost layer of neural tissue that protects molecules from entering the brain, and at point of contact, they get broken with a hit to the skull, which creates “holes” that then allows other molecules to penetrate leaving the brain unprotected.  Blood vessels at site of the hit as well, have been shown to leak into areas resulting in intracranial hemorrhaging.  Brain cell death begins to occur in the meninges (protective tissue surrounding the brain), and at the glial limitans, from reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are molecules that damage cells.  

 Once an area has been hit, inflammation begins to be endogenously produced, however, prolonged exposure to inflammatory cytokines is harmful, causing detrimental effects from this neuro-inflammation.  Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), is a cytokine released in the inflammatory response and may produce a toxic inflammatory environment for neurons at the site of impact, in the acute stages of a traumatic brain injury or concussion.  Lingering neuro-inflammatory mechanisms contribute to the secondary damage following a concussion.  There is evidence that the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may not be the best pharmacotherapy for managing the neurobiological factors underlying concussive injuries because it has been shown that chronic treatment NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, worsens the cognitive alterations in rodents exposed to an experimental TBI. 

        Reducing bleeding , inflammation, and reactive oxygen species at the area, would aid in neuro-protection of a concussion and traumatic brain injury.  One study found that with application of an anti-oxidant agent to the skull at location of impact, immediately after the concussion or hit occurred, had 67% less cell death.  With application 3 hours after the hit it showed 51% less cell death than with no application on the controls.
     Due to the potent beneficial compounds in essential oils, they have been shown to support in the reduction of bleeding, inflammation and re-active oxygen species, they can be highly neuro-protective.  Multiple studies have been conducted on the neuro-protective effects of essential oils including their ability to surpass the blood brain barrier.

     Incensole acetate is a constituent in frankincense essential oil that showed positive effects on the brain post injury.  It reduced the glial activation, which in turn reduces pathological pain signals, causing a sensory soothing effect.  It also inhibited the expression of the tumor necrosis factor, which is one of the proteins that induce death in cells.  Another beneficiary effect from incensole acetate was that it inhibited neuro-degeneration in the hippocampus, which is a structure that is part of the limbic system and is the primary site for short and long-term memory, including spatial navigation.  The results of the use of the essential oil of Frankincense showed improved cognitive abilities compared to that of the controls as well from use.  Frankincense therefore has multiple positive interactions in supporting and protecting brain cells and structures for beyond concussion care. 

     Helichrysum essential oil studies have also found that it has an inhibitory effect on the inflammatory contributor of tumor necrosis, and it also aids in reducing hemorrhaging and reparation of blood vessels and tissue damage.  A component called tiliroside in Helichrysum, showed anti-oxidant like properties when exposed to free radicals, which when paired with an oxygen molecule become reactive oxygen species (ROS) that induce damage and cell death.  

     Clove essential oil has shown positive effects as well in working against ROS and has shown to prevent aggregation of platelets that lead to blood clots. It also has natural numbing properties to ease discomfort.

   Aromatic tumerones from turmeric essential oil showed in a research study to have a positive effect on nuero-inflammation after oral administration. Aromatic tumerones exhibited protective behavior in an induced memory disturbance in mice. It also significantly limited brain damage through inhibiting the activation of microglia and generation of inflammatory cytokines.  The study found that turmeric essential oil acted as a protective agent to support the brain against harmful inflammatory responses in the brain.

  Essential oils therefore can be a viable intervention method to support healthy brain function and an easy way athletes can apply these plant based compounds topically on the base of the neck at the occipital point, and point of contact to encourage an immediate healthy response to a hit.  Not all essential oils are alike, in fact the chemistry and purity really matter when you are wanting effective solutions. 

For more information on high quality pure essential oils and to work with Danielle Daniel, leading expert in the field of essential oils and the brain, click here to learn, shop and book a consult now

*statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Essential oils do not replace medical care or drugs.

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