Column by Gavin Guard: Concussions do more than just damage the head Featured

Concussions or TBIs (traumatic brain injuries) represent an astonishing number of injuries with around 2 million people affected each year. To make matters worse, 75% of these are classified as “mild” which often go unnoticed or worse yet, ignored by the medical practitioners that care for these people.

I remember a classmate of mine who sustained multiple concussions in a single football season only to keep returning to play with no interventions. There seemed to be no support for this athlete who was most likely suffering from the consequences of multiple frequent TBIs.

It is important to note that a concussion does not lead to just short-term effects. Rather, TBIs yield a plethora of down-stream health impacts that can affect an individual for months to years after the injury.

While many are able to fully recover after a single TBI, those who experience a severe TBI or multiple TBIs may sustain chronic complications. The majority of these patients are told to accept their new fate under a false dogma of irreversibility of brain damage.

However, new brain plasticity research is bringing this concept under scrutiny. Through my research, I have come to appreciate multiple inputs that affect brain health and ultimately, the ability for a patient to recover after a TBI.

Throughout the rest of this post, I will briefly touch on the secondary injuries after a TBI in order to highlight the different possible avenues of therapy that can be considered for an individual suffering from post-TBI complications.

Secondary injuries after a TBI are associated with many mental health conditions that seem to be rampant in this day in age. TBIs have been known for some time to create dysregulation of neurotransmitters and messages in neurons within the brain. This can lead to states such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. This is an interesting finding as some patients accept their mental health condition as status of their own doing or incapability to take care of themselves.

A concussion also has the potential to create gut disorders such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, IBS, etc. This is caused through the internetwork of what we call the “gut-brain axis” by which the brain affects the function of the gut and vice versa. Specifically, after a concussion, the vagus nerve input to the gut can be reduced through a derangement of part of the central nervous system called the corticopontine network. The outcome of this is reduced digestive enzyme production, reduced motility of the gut, as well as reduced blood flow to the gut itself. A downward spiral occurs by which gut dysfunction can lead to increased inflammation and the potential for the triggering of autoimmunity which ultimately leads to further neuroinflammation inside the brain.

Furthermore, brain dysfunction after a TBI can alter blood sugar levels in the body. A fascinating finding is that the brain produces its own insulin, which was originally thought to only be produced by the pancreas. Increased neuron excitability and firing after a TBI will lead to an increased demand for glucose (blood sugar) and has the potential to create blood sugar imbalances and inflammation.

Through sheer force stress, the part of the brain that is the master regulator of multiple hormones (the pituitary gland) can be damaged. Up to 1/3 of TBI patients have been reported to have at least one hormone deficiency as a result. Such hormones include growth hormone, thyroid, and cortisol. These hormones play a role in various body processes such as cholesterol levels, energy production, immune activity, and blood sugar balance.

The final secondary injury I will touch on is the degenerative potential of a concussion. As many of you may know, football players are now observed to be suffering from symptoms similar to dementia. A well-known movie (appropriately named “Concussion”) was made about this topic which I highly recommend you consider watching. This condition is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. This is very similar to Alzheimer’s disease as well as other neurodegenerative conditions.

These are just a few of the many complications of TBIs and concussions. My hope is that this information serves to give you insight to possible therapeutic routes for a TBI and give an explanation for symptoms that you or someone you may know is experiencing.

As always, please feel free to connect with me to comment on this piece or ask a question. You can contact me at guardgavin@gmail.com.


Gavin will soon be graduating from the University of Colorado as a PA. He also is a certified nutritionist and has additional professional functional medicine training. He is the medical director at Roots Health Community which focuses on managing and reversing chronic illnesses through a functional medicine approach. Roots’ mission is to dramatically transform the health of the island community and create a world-class patient experience. If you would like to become a patient at the clinic, you can reach out to Gavin at guardgavin@gmail.com. Roots Health Community will be opening in the fall of 2020.  

Gavin, Lindsey and their daughter Ellie will be familiar to most islanders.

3 comments

  • Robert Beckman
    Robert Beckman Tuesday, 11 February 2020 05:09 Comment Link

    guardgavin@gmail.com
    Gavin: I've just read your piece on concussion. It's great that you are preparing for a PA practice in Functional Medicine. I'd like to introduce you to our work and invite you to interact with the Functional Medicine practitioners working to stop soldier suicides and heal brain injuries caused by blast, impact, sports, falls, accidents, etc. Consider:
    1. We face an epidemic of suicide, and brain-related wounds afflicting service members' mental and physical health. Millions of civilians, athletes, fire, rescue, first responders are also affected. The Concussion/CTE/suicide/drug overdose crises are trickling down to high schools.
    2. Reports released this year by the military paint a dismal picture. https://bit.ly/2oef1UT In 2018, active duty Army suicides reached a five-year high; suicide among active-duty Marines reached an almost 10-year high; active-duty Navy suicides hit a record high; USAF suicides will be the highest ever. Sexual assault in the military also reached a four-year high in 2018. And female service member suicides are “staggering” and “obscenely high” at six times the rate of other women. https://lat.ms/2p2x0xL The epidemic of active duty and reserve service members shows 541 took their own lives in 2018; DoD also reports that 186 military spouses and dependents took their own lives in 2017. https://bit.ly/2ounxza
    3. Billions of $$$ are being spent on research and unproven even hurtful drugs and devices that exacerbate the problems in too many cases.
    4. DOD/VA/Army conducted HBOT studies producing DATA that show HBOT works: it is safe and effective.
    5. Business as usual affects over 800,000 post-9/11 wounded [and an equal number of Vietnam veterans] and their families while BILLIONS of $$$ are expended on drugs and fruitless psychological and other unproven interventions. Research with new drugs, LSD and psychotropics continues.
    6. The cost to the wounded: interminable wait times, mis-diagnoses, drugs and semi-permanent welfare status, families in crises, wives with secondary TBI/PTSD, degraded quality of life.
    7. The cost to the nation: 20+ suicides a day, hollowing out of Special Operations forces, $60,000 cost/per year for each untreated brain injury, and corrosive effects of wounded who are told: "There is no treatment to help you, only psychopharmacology and cognitive psychotherapy." The NFL and the NCAA brag of a Concussion Protocol that does nothing to heal the wound to the brain. It is all about “watchful waiting,” rest, reaching milestones, and hoping symptoms go away.
    8. Yet an active treatment does exist: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy when used by the TreatNOW Coalition and multiple clinics across the US and world. We have peer-reviewed positive scientific and clinical evidence in over 6,100 cases that HBOT helps heal wounded brains and returns patients to a life denied them by DOD/VA/Army that will not talk about, or even use or pay for HBOT treatment for TBI/PTSD/PCS/Concussion.
    9. Successful treatment with HBOT [40 one-hour sessions] virtually eliminates suicidal ideation, an effective “suicide prevention” method. Patients also reduce their drug intake to nearly zero and experience 50% reduction in pain and time to withdrawal.
    10. Dr Daphne Denham, MD out of Fargo ND and Chicago, IL demonstrated (http://bit.ly/2jwdUwI) that patients (348 out of 350) diagnosed with acute concussions completely resolved her/his symptoms in five or less treatments (average of 2.9 treatments per concussion). That’s back in school symptom-free, within a week, sometimes over the weekend. You can learn more about this by viewing a short film entitled “Concussion Help in a Hyperbaric Chamber?” https://tinyurl.com/ybldktqn.

    These videos give more insight into successes and science:

    Joe Namath, football https://tinyurl.com/yxkwdb27
    MSGT Scott Roessler [Ranger] http://tinyurl.com/hf3czmw
    Joe Delamielleure (Buffalo Bills) http://tinyurl.com/m5q8ued
    GnySgt Rotenberry & wife http://tinyurl.com/gpzpxgy
    MAJ Ben Richards http://tinyurl.com/jts2jy3
    CAPT Smotherman/Rep John Bennett http://tinyurl.com/lvcf22r
    The Honorable Patt Maney (BG, USA) http://tinyurl.com/m97x4jp
    Brian Fleury - Hockey Player http://tinyurl.com/hefs478
    Robin Read, Stroke Patient http://tinyurl.com/gv2zpkl
    Roy Jefferson https://bit.ly/2MDg1JV
    Dr. Daphne Denham on Concussion https://tinyurl.com/ybldktqn
    Dave Rogers, Navy SEAL https://youtu.be/kZ3TFGjbptA
    Michael BEAR Clair https://tinyurl.com/y2xmfcsm
    SEAL Jon Grant and Laura https://tinyurl.com/y4t8w9a9
    Carrie Peele, wellness https://tinyurl.com/yyxxye2j



    We are primarily veterans working pro bono to stop the suicide epidemic and restore the brain injured to a quality of life denied them by conventional approaches to concussions and brain injuries.

    The TreatNOW Coalition is supported by numerous clinics and physicians worldwide. The Coalition has built a collaborative network of 90+ civilian Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)-capable clinics in 32 states which have, on a largely pro bono basis, successfully treated over 6,100 TBI/PTSD Veteran and civilian casualties. Using HBOT and a variety of safe and effective, alternative therapies, clinicians are actively treating and helping to heal underlying brain damage that is ignored with current, passive "watchful waiting" and drug-based Concussion protocols. And patients are able to quit taking most of their drugs.

    TreatNOW has had dramatic, life-altering success returning each of the fully-treated patients to a quality of life far beyond what they could receive from traditional or DOD medicine. A significant number were returned to active military duty. Under TreatNOW, this scientific work will continue to give hope to the hundreds of thousands of brain-injured patients with TBI/Concussion and/or PTSD. Neither service members or athletes or citizens have to settle for a "new normal" along with a life of addictive dependence on prescribed drugs that come with warnings against suicidal risk. This is not the Quality of Life they deserve nor what safe and effective evidence-based medicine can provide for them.

    The TreatNOW civilian research and treatment effort to this point has been largely self-funded. It has concluded an observational study of over 30 patients, all treated successfully. The data demonstrate once again the role of hyperbaric oxygen in active treatment of wounds to the brain, restoring function and brain health to wounded who were told they would have to settle for a "new normal," in effect a degraded quality of life.

    The TreatNOW Mission is to immediately and urgently identify and treat veterans and others suffering from Concussion/TBI/PTSD,and to alleviate pain and withdrawal symptoms for substance abusers. The TreatNOW Goal is to ensure that over 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan brain injured veterans and active duty service members, along with all citizens, get insured access to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and other proven alternative medical treatments for their Invisible Wounds. But immediate compassionate care is needed for the most at-risk wounded veterans. Currently, these steps forward will likely come only from the private sector. With funding, the Coalition's assistance could lead to treatment of Reserve and National Guard servicemen and women in states who have started their own treatment programs, beginning now. Love to talk to you. A great presentation on HBOT and FM is on the web site

    http://www.treatnow.org

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  • Jaime Ellsworth
    Jaime Ellsworth Monday, 10 February 2020 18:26 Comment Link

    I've learned so much from your articles.......Thank you!! Jaime Ellsworth

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  • Kristine Brown
    Kristine Brown Monday, 10 February 2020 11:24 Comment Link

    Gavin, this is very helpful, hopeful information. Will have treatment protocols for those with concussion that will address the hormonal and gut issues?

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