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June 2017 – Blog on Brain Food!

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In this month’s ‘You Matter To Us’ blog, Thomson & Bancks’ Head of Medical Negligence, Lucy Sherry explores the positive combined effects of diet and exercise on brain damage.

In my job, I come across those victims of medical negligence who have suffered from preventable brain damage, as well as those who have been badly injured after strokes or trauma but incorrectly diagnosed or treated. Although medicine has come a long way in relation to learning about the complexities of the brain and how it rewires itself after injury, there remain much that we do not know. The positive combined effects of diet and exercise on brain damage are surprisingly, more than the sum total of those relating to just exercise or diet alone.

Recovery of brain function post injury is thought to occur by several mechanisms:

  • Diaschisis; Depressed areas of the brain that are not injured but linked to injured areas begin functioning again.
  • The function is taken over by a part of the brain that does not usually perform that task.
  • Redundancy in the function performed so another area of the brain takes over.
  • Behavioural substitution; The individual learns new strategies to compensate for deficits.

You can find out more about brain recovery here.

Like with many injuries, how fast and effectively you’re able to recover will vary depending on your genes, age, fitness and underlying illnesses. However, there has been some interesting research into what food and exercise types assist both the brain’s normal function and recovery from injury. The brain has a remarkable capacity for plasticity, hence why counselling and ‘brain retraining’ programmes are so popular. The older you are, however, the less plastic it is and so it takes more work to successfully retrain, unless you have kept it active and lived a healthy lifestyle.

An increasing number of basic science studies indicate that environmental conditions and experiences encountered in the daily routine of individuals can dramatically affect the capacity of the brain to react to challenges. In particular, certain types of dietary factors, such as omega-3 fatty acids, can increase production of molecular systems that serve synaptic function, while diets rich in saturated fats do the opposite (clogging the reflexes).

Another dietary supplement that has shown promise is Vitamin E, found in certain oils, nuts, and spinach. Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant, reducing free radicals in the brain which would otherwise impede optimal function of neurons.

Curcumin, a yellow curry spice, has also been suggested to enhance recovery events after brain trauma, displaying particular potency in preserving cognition. Curcumin was found to improve neuronal function in individuals afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease by reducing oxidative stress and amyloid pathology.

Studies observing the effects of caffeine on neuronal regeneration and function are recently emerging which may surprise some of us given the bad press it usually receives. For instance, it has been shown that chronic (not acute), treatment with caffeine protects the brain against injury in animal models of Parkinson’s disease and stroke by increasing glutamate release and inflammatory cytokine production.

When diet and cardiovascular exercise are combined, the success of regeneration and healing seems more pronounced than when either option is implemented by itself. Emerging studies indicate that exercise is capable of boosting the healthy effects of certain diets, such as omega-3 fatty acids. It has also been observed that exercise can counteract some of the deleterious effects of a saturated-fat diet on synaptic plasticity and cognitive function of rats.

You can find out more on this by reading this article.

So even when there is little to no motivation to eat well and take exercise from the patient themselves, support from those around them to do so is vital. This is where organisations such as the National Star Centre can play a big part. They are a charity who have been realising the aspirations of people living with disabilities for a magnificent 50 years in 2017 – fantastic congratulations from all of us at T&B!

Visit the National Star Centre website for more information.

Thomson & Bancks Solicitors are proud sponsors of the National Star in Cheltenham and will be showing their continuing support at their ‘Mysteries of the Mind; The Recovering Brain’ talk about recovering from brain damage after a stroke, to be held at Cheltenham’s Town Hall at 6pm on 7 June 2017. This is part of a week of lectures for Cheltenham’s Science Festival held between 6-11 June 2017.

Find out more about Cheltenham’s Science Festival.

Download this blog post as a PDF here.

Lucy Sherry, Solicitor-Advocate; Head of Medical Negligence specialises in medical negligence litigation, previously representing the NHS Litigation Authority and one of the GP Unions. Lucy now works with injured individuals and bereaved families to achieve compensation for adverse outcomes. Lucy has a passion for learning and sharing her knowledge, regularly delivering medico-legal training to lawyers, attending many hours of medical lectures each year to keep abreast of changes in treatments, and gaining an insight into new health and medical findings to share with Thomson & Bancks’ clients and visitors to this blog.

Catch up with Lucy Sherry’s previous blog posts

May 2017 – Blog on Why Eating Less Meat Could Help Save the Planet!
April 2017 – Blog on the EWG’s Clean 15 & Dirty Dozen
March 2017 – Blog on Going Sugar-free this Lent
February 2017 – Blog on Antibiotics in Animal Feed & the Rise of the Superbug; 1 Reason Why I was Vegetarian!
January 2017 – Blog on Alcohol; a harmless social escape or a dangerous poison?
December 2016 – Blog on Our annual Christmas binge & January famine!
November 2016 – Blog on Battling Stress at Work
October 2016 – Blog on The Taboos About Men’s Mental Health

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