The Silent Epidemic
According to the most recent data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on traumatic brain injuries (TBIs):
- There were 214,110 TBI-related hospitalizations in 2020* and 69,473 TBI-related deaths in 2021.1
- This represents more than 586 TBI-related hospitalizations and 190 TBI-related deaths per day.
- These estimates do not include the many TBIs that are only treated in the emergency department, primary care, urgent care, or those that go untreated.2
Interestingly, the highest rates of TBI hospitalizations and deaths were in people aged 75 years and older. Furthermore, males were almost twice as likely to be hospitalized and three times more likely to die from a TBI than females.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about TBIs. For example, there is a myth that “minor” blows to the head won’t cause any or much damage. This, unfortunately, is not true. In fact, minor TBIs (mTBIs) are now recognized as a major cause of mental health and behavioral disorders. They can also worsen existing psychiatric illnesses. (R, R, R)
According to a 2022 article in Biological Psychiatry (bold emphasis mine):
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is associated with a host of psychiatric and neurobehavioral problems. As mortality rates have declined for severe TBI, attention has turned to the cognitive, affective, and behavioral sequelae of injuries across the severity spectrum, which are often more disabling than residual physical effects. Moderate and severe TBI can cause personality changes including impulsivity, severe irritability, affective instability, and apathy.
Mild TBI, once considered a largely benign phenomenon, is now known to be associated with a range of affective symptoms, with suicidality, and with worsening or new onset of several psychiatric disorders including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder.
Repetitive head impacts, often in athletic contexts, are now believed to be associated with a number of emotional and behavioral sequelae. The nature and etiology of mental health manifestations of TBI (including a combination of brain dysfunction and psychological trauma and interrelationships between cognitive, affective, and physical symptoms) are complex and have been a focus of recent epidemiologic and mechanistic studies. This paper will review the epidemiology of psychiatric and neurobehavioral problems after TBI in military, civilian, and athletic contexts.
Currently, there is no universally agreed upon measure of TBI:
Although there is no universally agreed upon method for diagnosing and classifying TBI, TBI is generally accepted to reflect altered brain structure or function caused by an external force (25). Clinical signs considered sufficient to warrant a diagnosis typically include one or more of the following: acute intracranial injury on neuroimaging, neurologic deficits, unconsciousness, amnesia for peritraumatic events, and confusion or similar evidence of altered mental status.
Historically, TBIs have been classified into injury severity strata (e.g., mild, moderate, severe) according to acute injury characteristics such as the patient’s level of consciousness (quantified with the Glasgow Coma Scale [GCS]) and the duration of unconsciousness and posttraumatic amnesia (if present) (4).
Severity classifications are somewhat useful for outcome prediction but do not adequately reflect the vast differences between patients within and across severity strata. For example, the vast majority (>80%) of TBIs are classified as “mild” (mTBI), with diverse injury severity characteristics and outcomes within the mTBI population.
Recently, The American College of Emergency Physicians updated their clinical policy to provide recommendations on the care of adult patients with mTBI seen in an emergency department. This was based on the recognition of how mTBI, also known as concussion, affects millions of Americans every year and can lead to short-and-long term complications.
While this is a step in the right direction, many who suffer from TBIs are still not adequately assessed and given improper advice. Furthermore, many physicians’ knowledge of post-concussion care is sorely lacking. It is a “silent epidemic.”
A Hope for Healing from Head Injury and Restoring Brain Health
Thankfully, the word on how to effectively treat and recover from TBIs is becoming more mainstream. This is in large part due to the dedication of Dr. Kabren Chapek. In this episode of the Essential Oil Revolution, we are blessed to have the physician who literally wrote the book on how to heal and recover from concussions. It is based on his extensive background in treating major psychiatric disorders and as the current Associate Medical Director of the Northwest at one of the world-renowned Amen Clinics.
Unlike traditional psychiatry that rarely looks at the organ it treats, the Amen Clinics specialize in brain SPECT imaging. SPECT scans measure brain blood flow and activity. This allows for more accurate and precise diagnosis and treatment. Currently, there are ten Amen Clinic locations across the U.S. They hold the world’s largest database of brain scans for psychiatry totaling more than 200,000 SPECT scans on patients from 155 countries.
Dr. Chapek has been on the ground-floor of this brain health revolution in care. He is an incredibly gifted, passionate, and compassionate leading expert in the field. Besides his active role at the Amen Clinics providing integrative, naturopathic, and functional medicine care to his patients, he is a current board member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. He is also the founding president and current board member of the Psychiatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians, an affiliate group of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Through supporting the growth and creation of naturopathic mental health specialists, he extends his mission for providing integrative, heart-based, and patient-centered brain health care.
I must admit, having Dr. Chapek join us is incredible honor for me. I’ve been following the work of Amen Clinics for years. I have applied their methods and supplements in my practice with exceptional results. This has literally changed the brains and lives of many of my clients.
So, I can’t wait for you to meet Dr. Chapek and discover all the ways he is transforming people’s lives by revitalizing their brains. We discuss all there is to know about this silent epidemic of TBIs. This includes what a TBI is, how to treat it, how to prevent damage when you get a blow to the head, diagnosing a brain injury, the benefits of SPECT, keeping your brain healthy, how essential oils fit in this picture, and much more.
Below is a summary of the show but be sure to tune into the full episode so you don’t miss any of this essential information.
How Dr. Chapek Found His Passion for Caring for People’s Brains
Dr. Chapek began his interest in natural brain health at a young age. Through his parents’ holistic approach to food, exercise, and health, he became fascinated with the fact that these factors could change how one felt. For example, Dr. Chapek noted that when he ate a healthy diet he had better brain focus and clarity. This concept intrigued him, so he sought out knowledge on herbs, botanical medicine, and diet. This progressed to continuing his education at naturopathic medicine school.
While in naturopathic medicine school, Dr. Chapek was unsure of what to specialize in until he became a resident at a mental health treatment center. There, he witnessed how diet, supplements, lifestyle, and natural methods positively impacted his patients with severe mental health issues.
At the Amen Clinics, Dr. Chapek’s mission was further realized. Through brain SPECT imaging, he witnessed how some people who thought they had a mental health diagnosis actually had structural and functional brain imbalances. He also saw that there were biological reasons for psychiatric problems. This not only led to less stigmatization, but also changed the course of treatment.
Dr. Chapek gave an example of a young child who was diagnosed with depression. Despite conventional psychiatric treatment, he was not improving. He even began self-medicating with substances. Through a thorough intake, Dr. Chapek got to the root of when the child’s symptoms started, football practice. The fact that this was a TBI issue vs. depression was reinforced with SPECT imaging which displayed damage to the temporal lobes, the brain region associated with emotional health. Through proper diagnosis and treatment, Dr. Chapek was able to remedy the child’s brain and today he is thriving.
The more Dr. Chapek saw these turnarounds, the more he became interested in TBIs. When he was asked to give a lecture at a brain injury conference, he discovered there was a lot of unknown research on tools and supplements to help recover brain health after a head injury. As a result, he wrote the Concussion Rescue: A Comprehensive Program to Heal Traumatic Brain Injury to fill the gap on how to more naturally address and support brains that have been harmed from an injury. The difference this type of brain restoration has in people’s lives is what continues to fuel Dr. Chapek’s passion.
What Happens to the Brain with a Concussion and Why Should We Care?
The brain is soft and the bones in the skull are ridged and can bruise the brain on impact. As a result, even a brief “seeing of stars” or whiplash means that the brain got jostled
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons defines concussions “as a clinical syndrome characterized by immediate and transient alteration in brain function, including alteration of mental status or level of consciousness, that results from mechanical force or trauma.”
When someone hits their head various biological and physiological shifts happen:
- The immediate (primary) effect includes bruising, tearing of neurons, and damage to blood vessels of the brain.
- Secondarily, there is an ongoing flooding of calcium ions, a drop of glucose utilization, mitochondria deregulation, swelling of macrophages, and inflammation in the brain.
Although one may seem okay initially, ongoing inflammation and continued cellular and neuronal degeneration can show up in symptoms later on. This is especially true if one has additional vulnerabilities and risk factors.
In the article Concussion Pathophysiology and Injury Biomechanics, it is stated:
The neuroinflammatory response following mTBI has been hypothesized to correlate with concussion symptomatology and symptom duration . Interestingly, mild systemic inflammation seems to influence the mTBI recovery process. Subjects with initial post-injury elevations in high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), an inflammatory biomarker, were more likely to experience persistent post-concussive symptoms, cognitive impairment, and ongoing psychological issues 3 months after mTBI . A recent review highlights the significant role inflammation plays in mTBI pathophysiology, proposing its central role in persistent concussive symptoms . While research is too limited to confirm the contribution of neuroinflammation in mTBI prognosis and recovery, the neuroinflammatory response clearly plays a vital role in mTBI pathophysiology. Importantly, it also serves as a potential target for future interventions.
Interestingly, it has been found that applying antioxidant support through taking glutathione immediately after a head injury can help to quench the brain swelling and inflammation. One mouse study showed that the faster that glutathione was applied, the less neuronal cell death occurred.
How SPECT Imaging Can Find Where the Brain Imbalance Lies
Dr. Chapek highlighted how SPECT imaging post-concussion can locate the brain areas that are imbalanced or damaged. This can correlate to brain symptomology. Oftentimes, a specific associative pattern will emerge:
- If the frontal lobe is injured there will be problems with attention, working memory, and impulse control.
- If the temporal lobe has problems, one will have a hard time with anger management, irritability, dark thoughts, and can have suicidal ideation.
- The emotional centers, the limbic system, can also be damaged or be overactive due to frontal lobe being less able to filter impulses to it.
These patterns in conjunction with other symptoms more typical of brain injury (e.g., light and noise sensitivity, headaches, and anger issues) can help to solidify a TBI diagnosis.
First Aid for the Brain
Dr. Chapek came up with a specific first aid kit for the brain. This can be kept on hand in case of a brain injury. These include antioxidants and compounds that help to mitigate the damage from the primary and secondary effects of a TBI. The kit includes:
- 8 NAC (500 mg/cap)—Recommended dosage is 50mg for every kilogram of body weight—this dosage is based on a 175lb person. Dr. Chapek noted that in one study with those who had a TBI, the people who took NAC had a much higher recovery rate and less post-concussion symptoms.
- 2 curcumin (500 mg/cap)
- 2 vitamin C (1000mg/cap)
- 2 vitamin D (5000IU/cap) – Vitamin D is good for the brain and can help to prevent post-concussion symptoms.
- 1 TBSP MCT (medium chain triglycerides) oil powder or 6 caps
- 1 TBSP flavored branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) powder
- Omega-3 fatty acids
It is really a combination of these supplements that is most helpful, because there is more than one brain pathway that is affected by a TBI. In other words, brain injury is multifactorial.
This regime can also be used for those with chronic head injuries and can even help people who have been injured years prior. Dr. Chapek discussed a study with 30 retired NFL players who were at high risk for a form of dementia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), from long term TBIs. They displayed depression, memory problems, and difficulty managing anger, common signs of CTE. Personalized support for sleep, exercise, diet, and supplements for six months led to an 80% improvement in symptoms in these players.
Some of the key ingredients used in this study are in BrainMD’s Brain and Body Power Max. It contains 3g of fish oil, a high potency multi-vitamin, and individual nutrients from Brain and Memory Power Boost. Brain and Memory Power Boost contains phosphatidylcholine for cell membrane stability, huperzine A for acetylcholine support and memory, NAC as an antioxidant, and gingko for assisting brain blood flow.
Magnesium threonate may be helpful, but not right away. Dr. Chapek feels that it, like corticosteroids, may have too much of a suppressive effect in early recovery.
Essential Oils for Brain Support
Essential oils that I find that can helpful for those who have trauma to the brain are ones high in sesquiterpenes, such as frankincense and elemi. These compounds help with neurological support and prevent excess brain inflammation. Beta-elemene found in several oils may also help with preventing excess swelling.
Essential oils also have other multi-factorial properties to support brain health such as their roles as antioxidants and balancing electrical patterns in the brain. For example, studies with jasmine and vetiver both show positive brain wave shifts.
Other ways essential oils can further mitigate brain injury are through lymph support, nerve repair, circulation, and neurotransmission. Rosemary and sage oils are also good for boosting memory and can aid in neuroprotection.
The Hormonal Impact of a Brain Injury
Around 20-25% of people with a brain injury can have damage to their pituitary gland, which can impact other hormones. This can lead to low levels of thyroid hormone, sex hormones, and adrenal gland output (cortisol).
A functional or naturopathic doctor can assess hormones such as the pituitary output signals, i.e. luteinizing and follicle stimulating hormones (LH, FSH), or hormonal output directly. These labs can be considered along with one’s symptom presentation. For example, low testosterone can be found in a lab and can manifest as low mood and energy symptoms.
Dr. Chapek most commonly sees the hormonal impact of brain injuries as low testosterone and adrenal dysfunction. He also believes it plays a role in the sleep issues in those with brain injuries due to the decrease of melatonin and hypocretin from lack of pituitary stimulation.
Furthermore, it demonstrates the profound repercussions of contact sports in kids. This is due to an even greater long-term influence on developing brains and resulting hormonal output. Unfortunately, helmets don’t prevent damage from TBIs. This was made evident in studies of children with TBIs using fMRIs.
Brain Health Factors
Dr. Chapek recommends the following for a healthy brain:
- Exercise, which boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) to spark brain power.
- A healthy diet with high fats and protein to heal the brain. A keto diet may be helpful for some but it is not for everyone long-term:
- Keto diets can be initially used to help bypass the damage to the glucose transporters from a TBI and assist with brain fuel.
- Keto diets also have evidence for neurological issues such as seizures, headaches, treatment resistant depression, and Alzheimer’s.
- For some brains, however, carbs are needed to boost serotonin and long-term nutrient deficiencies can ensue without them in the diet.
BRIGHT MINDS is an acronym used for assessing the risk factors for overall brain health and to prevent dementia down the road. It includes:
- B – Blood Flow
- R – Retirement/Aging
- I – Inflammation
- G – Genetics
- H – Head Trauma
- T – Toxins
- M – Mental Health
- I – Immunity/Infection Issues
- N – Neurohormone Deficiencies
- D – Diabesity
- S – Sleep Issues
Dr. Chapek’s Essential Oil Hacks
- Dr. Chapek’s air freshener for a healthy car environment: This can be accomplished with a car diffuser that hooks up to the vent of the heater and blows across a little vial. In this way you can infuse the car with essential oils vs. toxic fragrances.
- Stinky Feet Spray: A spray bottle filled with 100 proof vodka and a mixture of different oils, such as thyme, cedar, tea tree, and lemon can “work like a charm to keep shoes not stinky.”
All of this and more is discussed! You won’t want to miss anything!
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Links to Learn More About Dr. Kabran Chapek:
- The Amen Clinics
- The Amen Clincs Seattle Metro Area
- IG @drkabran_chapek
- Concussion Rescue Program
- Book: Concussion Rescue: A Comprehensive Program to Heal Traumatic Brain Injury
- Watch Dr. Chapek with Professional BMX Rider Tyler Fernengel Discussing Concussions
Links to Learn More About the Amen Clinics
- About the Amen Clinics
- Peer Reviewed Research by Dr. Amen and Amen Clinics Team
- SPECT Research Overview
- Amen Clinic Resources
- BrainMD Store
Bio of Dr. Kabran Chapek, ND
Dr. Chapek is a true brain health warrior, a trail-blazing pioneer, an exceptionally brilliant physician, and expert in psychiatric care. He studied human biology at the University of Kansas and received his naturopathic medicine degree at the internationally renowned Bastyr University. Dr. Chapek has an extensive background in treating a wide range of mental health disorders. From 2007-2013, he began his clinical psychiatric experience as part of a multidisciplinary team in Edmunds, Washington. There he treated patients with severe mental illness and addiction issues in a partial hospital program. He later became their medical director before moving on to be a staff physician at the Amen Clinics. Currently, he serves as the Associate Medical Director at the prestigious Amen Clinics Northwest.
The Amen Clinics specialize in cutting-edge, research-based, psychiatric care with a mission to end the stigma of mental health by providing the best solutions for brain health. Their staff physicians provide personalized treatment plans based on comprehensive evaluations, clinical assessments, and laboratory testing. Unlike traditional psychiatry that rarely looks at the organ it treats, the Amen Clinics specialize in brain SPECT imaging, which measures blood flow and activity in the brain to diagnose and treat people’s brains more accurately. Currently, there are ten Amen Clinic locations across the U.S. They hold the world’s largest database of brain scans for psychiatry totaling more than 200,000 SPECT scans on patients from 155 countries.
Dr. Chapek provides his expertise in functional and integrative treatments and collaborates extensively with many of the Amen Clinics physicians. He has a special interest in the assessment and treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and anxiety disorders. Dr. Chapek was integral to the creation of the Amen Clinics Concussion Rescue Program and is the author of the Concussion Rescue: A Comprehensive Program to Heal Traumatic Brain Injury. In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Chapek provides detailed, breakthrough, and empowering solutions on how to recover from brain injury.
Dr. Chapek is also a current board member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and the founding president and current board member to the Psychiatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians, an affiliate group of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Through contributing to the creation of naturopathic mental health specialists, Dr. Chapek is extending his mission of providing integrative, compassionate, and patient-centered brain health care. With his fierce, kind, and authentic presence, he provides evidence that a healthy brain really does make for a better world. You can find Dr. Chapek at https://www.amenclinics.com/team/kabran-chapek-nd/.
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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.