The main purpose of our medical system is to stabilize individuals with life-threatening illness or injury, and manage symptoms. Once these goals have been accomplished, patients are discharged and on their own to continue the healing process. There is little attention given to optimal healing, optimal recovery, maximizing function, and prevention. This leaves a huge gap of possibility between what most people experience and what is possible.
Cavin is an individual who has shown, and continues to show what is possible in healing. I felt compelled to share his story, as it is such a great example of using the best of both medical therapies and natural therapies for optimal healing.
I was honoured to have him as part of our group as a scholarship recipient and recent graduate of the Therapeutic Nutrition and Supplements in Practice course.
People are often curious as to why I, a severe traumatic brain injury survivor, place so much emphasis on nutrition and supplementation during and after recovery. My name is Cavin Balaster. In 2011, I fell 20 feet from a rooftop water tower scaffolding. My head struck the steel scaffolding on the way down before crashing onto the concrete rooftop below. I was rushed to the hospital and put on life support. While in a coma, an MRI revealed a severe diffuse axonal injury (DAI), which is one of the most devastating types of brain injury. Statistically, over 90% of patients with this injury never regain consciousness, and those who do wake up will often remain in a persistent vegetative state. 1
After 12 days in a coma, I woke with severe brain fog, memory loss, breathing problems, and I was unable to eat, walk, or talk for months. An enormous amount of work and therapy played into my rehabilitation as I worked to regain everyday faculties… As I relearned how to live.
I would remain in a severe brain fog while I relearned normal abilities, until the results of a blood test about a year after my injury led me to an incredibly important realization. My protein levels were shown to be low, which was surprising to me, because I was eating meat with every meal and having a protein shake daily. My digestion was not delivering at least some of the nutrients that my brain and body needed, and the intensely difficult work I was doing to heal myself was not being properly supported. Like a house is unable to be built without materials, the brain is unable to heal without brain-building nutrients.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is a condition caused by increased permeability of the intestinal wall, resulting in the inability to absorb many nutrients. It is a condition known to be common with many conditions including brain injuries 2, and brain diseases 3, as well as being very common with people who have been hospitalized and put on NSAIDs and antibiotics 4, 5.
Rebooting The Gut/Brain Axis
Nutrition and supplementation were cornerstone pieces in the process of restoring the communication between my gut and my brain; finally supplying the brain building nutrition that was needed to repair at least some of my brain damage. When looking at supplementation to support an injured brain, we first have to address inflammation in both the gut and the brain.
Some supplements that act as strong antioxidants and that are able to cross the blood-brain-barrier include transdermal glutathione, turmeric, resveratrol, and melatonin (I prefer the nasal spray). Melatonin is a highly efficient free radical scavenger and general antioxidant, but TBI survivors exhibit reduced melatonin levels after an injury 6, 7. Luckily, we can supplement melatonin in therapeutic doses.
While these compounds can be used to reduce the inflammation, it is especially important to eliminate the source by cleaning up the diet. After removing packaged and processed foods, I removed common inflammatory foods. These included gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, refined sugar, soy, dried fruit, shellfish, and most grains.
While practicing an elimination protocol and supplementing to quell the inflammation, next we would look towards immune support. Supplements for this include emulsified vitamin D, liposomal vitamin C, colostrum PRP spray, and fermented cod liver oil (for fat soluble vitamins like A and D, as well as omega 3s). These compounds would help to boost my immune system, and, because about 70% of the entire immune system is found in the intestinal tract 8, they would also work to support my digestion.
Of course, we would also want to provide additional support to the healing process of my inflamed intestine. Supplementation would include several digestive enzymes, L-Glutamine, licorice root, aloe vera, marshmallow root, slippery elm bark, and more gut healing compounds.
There is certainly no cookie cutter approach to brain injury treatment, but there may be a common starting point for a successful recovery. One of the most pivotal realizations that I made surrounding my injury was that there are ways that I could nutritionally support my neuronal health at a cellular level, and thereby support brain plasticity, but I first had to heal my digestion so that I could absorb the nutrients for my neuronal health. I did so through nutrition and supplementation.
Cavin Balaster is a traumatic brain injury survivor of a two-story fall. He was initially comatose for twelve days and was diagnosed with a severe diffuse axonal injury. Statistically, 90% of patients diagnosed with this kind of injury never regain consciousness. Those who do wake up will often remain in a persistent vegetative state. After complications and the need to induce a second coma, Cavin spent years not only recovering, but documenting his process of regaining clarity and the ability to walk, talk, swallow, and to use his left side extremities. On the anniversary of his TBI, he began to write diligently, researching and spreading awareness about neurological health and recovery. Over the past few years he has developed a website about his injury and recovery process titled, “Adventures in Brain Injury.” He continues to be very active in the neurorehabilitation and heath community, writing and offering hope and guidance to survivors and their loved ones. He is currently writing a book about his experience to act as a resource for recovery to doctors, therapists, nurses, health practitioners, and of course survivors and their loved ones. You can see his ongoing work at www.AdventuresInBrainInjury.