The most exciting example of ‘Nutrition Meets Medicine’ in the 21st Century, so far, has to be the emerging evidence of the role omega-3 fatty acids play in brain health. A growing body of research links omega-3 fats, particularly EPA and DHA, to dementia, depression, fetal brain development, age-related cognitive decline and other mental disorders. One of the most promising areas for new research is the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on recovery from traumatic brain injury (TBI). Leading the charge is Dr. Michael Lewis MD, president of the Brain Health Education and Research Institute, formed last year, with the goal of:
educating providers and the public on the use of omega-3 fatty acids for the prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of the brain prior to or following injury such as traumatic brain injury or concussion.
Dr. Lewis didn’t start his medical career with the intent of focusing on omega-3 fatty acids. He learned about it in the course of his work as an Army physician, and over the past few years has developed his own omega-3 protocol for patients he sees for brain injury. I spoke with him recently, and a condensed version of our discussion is below ( a podcast is coming).
Radio Nutrition: How did you get interested in this topic?
Lewis: A number of people were looking at it, as far as different psychiatric situations such as depression, ADHD and dementia. I came to the conclusion that if it’s good for the heart and good for the brain and necessary for the development of the human brain, why wouldn’t it be helpful to help repair a brain after it’s been injured? I started looking into it, and asked whether anybody was looking at the use of omega-3 fatty acids to help with recovery from TBI? The military’s answer back to me was “Good question. Why don’t you figure it out.” I was given the green light to start trying to figure it out, mainly because I was the only one asking the question.
Radio Nutrition: Is there a standard of care in the military that uses omega-3 supplements for TBI treatment?
Lewis: No there is no standard of care in the military for using fish oil. Literally, the individual provider decides. I sat in for a day on a TBI clinic at Walter Reed. One physician came up to me and said she had tried to put patients on omega-3, and the pharmacy at the facility said “We don’t carry it and we’re not going to order it for you”. She was shocked, because at a previous VA hospital where she worked, everyone was put on it. I founded BHERI to get the word out, let them know there is something else that can be done besides rest, to allow brain to heal.