Nutrition for a Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injuries account for nearly one-third of injury-related deaths in the United States, according to the Institute of Medicine, and someone suffers a traumatic brain injury every 23 seconds 2. Patients who survive a traumatic brain injury often face a long and challenging road to recovery as they work to restore normal vocal, ambulatory and bodily functions. Nutrition is crucial both immediately after injury and throughout the rest of your life if you have had a brain injury. Long-term management of a brain injury involves providing your body with the materials it needs to function optimally.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Acute Nutrition

Brain injury patients need to receive nutritional supplementation as soon as possible after a brain injury, says Dr. Roger Hartl, a neurosurgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Traditional treatment formerly required that patients receive nutritional supplementation within a week of injury, but Hartl says that brain injury patients should have it sooner because the brain and body will heal better and low calorie intake is associated with higher mortality. The type, size and delivery method of meals should be determined by a medical professional.


Omega-3 fatty acids make up parts of brain cells and are contained in foods like fish, fish oil, flaxseed, algae and walnuts. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, most Americans are deficient in omega-3s, and deficiencies have been associated with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia 3. A 2011 study published in the journal "Neurosurgery" showed that omega-3 supplementation of rats suffering from brain injuries helped protect nerves from more damage after injury and prevented negative behavioral changes 4. Specific protocols for omega-3 supplementation after traumatic brain injury do not exist, but supplementation may be promising both immediately after injury and in the long term. Omega-3 supplementation has also been shown to improve mental function in older adults.

Amino Acids

Protein is used for the growth, repair and maintenance of nearly every tissue in the body and is composed of amino acids. Amino acids in the brain are related to normal levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that supplementation with the amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine restored cognitive function of brain injured rats. Consume amino acids as a supplement or eat whole protein sources like lean chicken, fish and beans.

Other Foods

A person living with a brain injury should consume a rounded diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid saturated fat, hydrogenated fats and sodium because they may increase your risk of suffering a stroke. Consuming a variety of foods will ensure that you are receiving adequate amounts of all vitamins and minerals, some of which are specifically tied to brain function. For example, choline contributes to formation of neurotransmitters, substances that help transmit signals in the brain. Choline is a vitamin that is found in eggs and peanuts.


Water is crucial for people living with brain injuries. A study published in the January 2011 issue of the journal "Brain Mapping" showed that dehydration alters the physical structure of the brain. Dehydration also impairs brain function, making it difficult to concentrate and causing you to feel slow. Consult your doctor for specific recommendations about water consumption.