Concussion Care: Do Supplements and Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers Help — Or Hurt?
To speed your recovery or relieve headaches after a concussion, you may be tempted to add a popular supplement or over-the-counter pain reliever to your treatment plan.
But before you do, talk with your concussion expert, advises Alicia Sufrinko, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist with the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Be sure to share any daily vitamins, nutritional supplements and prescription medicines you took before your concussion, too.
Do Supplements Work?
Numerous nutritional supplements are being studied for their anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties to determine their value in treating, and possibly even preventing, traumatic brain injuries. They include:
- Omega-3 (fish oil)
- Vitamins C, D, and E
- Curcumin — found in the spice turmeric
- Resveratrol — found in grapes, nuts, and plants
- Creatine — believed to help build muscle mass and energy
“While animal-based studies show promising results with some of these supplements, the jury is still out on how well they work on people,” says Dr. Sufrinko. Clinical trials on humans are currently underway on many of them, including two studies of special interest on vitamin D3 and omega-3.
“While there is little research supporting the use of supplements, there are also very few risks or side effects when taken at low dosages,” says Dr. Sufrinko. “But because we don’t fully understand how they may affect a traumatic brain injury, it’s important for your concussion expert to be aware of what and how much you’re taking.”
Should You Self-Treat Your Headaches?
Headaches are one of the most frequent symptoms of a concussion, occurring in people of all ages.
“The type and severity of headaches vary widely among concussion patients,” says Dr. Sufrinko. Two¬ supplements in particular — magnesium and vitamin B2 (riboflavin) — appear to help relieve chronic post-concussion headaches, and their use in humans is currently being studied. A pediatric trial also is underway on melatonin, best known for promoting sleep.
Dr. Sufrinko urges great care when taking over-the-counter painkillers like aspirin or ibuprofen for post-concussion headaches. These medicines can mask other problems and overuse can result in painful “rebound headaches.” She advises patients to limit themselves to just three or four dose
s per week.