Caring For Your Brain – Part I

By Cate Cummings APRN, FNP, IFMCP

I have been on a big learning curve recently after a significant head trauma which happened while calmly standing next to one of my horses. I have no memory of the incident (which has its pros and cons!), but as a result I set about to understand what really has been going on inside that boney skull of mine!

Before I begin to share the exciting information about healing from brain trauma, I just want to say that I was extremely fortunate to have my husband, Ron, nearby to save my life and that my brain injury did not impact my frontal cortex (so that, as a result, I can still think clearly!). It did impact my cerebellar region which is at the back of the skull, so I have some balance issues that I am busy healing up. Five weeks after the injury, I rode one of my horses and that was very uplifting as I love being with them. The very process of riding my horse works toward healing my brain because riding requires the cerebellar neurons to get to work enabling me to balance better. That is a fun way to exercise my brain for healing!

So, getting back to the amazing information that I learned about brain trauma. Did you know that only 10% of our brain is actually made up of neurons – the specialized cells that send and receive messages to make our body move, give us conscious thought, etc.? That is right, they only make up 10% of our brain volume. So, what else is in there?

The other 90% of brain tissue is made up of glial cells (called this because a long time ago researchers thought these cells had no other function than to act like ‘glue’ and hold the brain together. But, with further research, it is now known that healthy glial cell function is extremely important for brain health. There are 3 main types of glial cells:

1) Oligodendrocytes which provide myelin sheaths to speed nerve messages along from neuron to neuron.

2) Astrocytes which keep our blood-brain barrier (BBB) intact and also have an important role in overseeing how neurons talk to each other at the synapse (the place where the neurons meet and where messages travel to the next neuron in the line).

3) Microglial cells which actually move around in a healthy brain doing housekeeping and surveillance! Yes, we have cells which normally move around in our brain tissue to keep it healthy! OMGosh, I did not know I had bug-like cells moving around in my skull helping me out!

There are many things which happen when we have a brain trauma. Much of what happens is dependent on your underlying health before the brain injury, the area of the brain that is impacted, and the resources you have available to help you heal your brain.

No matter where your noggin gets knocked, there are many easy and inexpensive lifestyle factors you can do to help heal your brain. Here are some good things to keep in mind:

  1. Get enough good quality sleep. For most adults 8 hours of good quality sleep will help the brain recover better than less hours of sleep.
    If a person has sleep apnea, they often do not get enough oxygen to the brain while sleeping and this will delay healing from a brain trauma. If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, please consult your primary care doctor to see if you should have a sleep study done. Sleep apnea can be corrected with the right nighttime appliance, such as a CPAP device.
  2. Make sure you are not anemic because this may decrease the amount of oxygen that can be delivered to the brain. If you suspect you are anemic, please consult your physician for an evaluation and proper treatment.
    Oxygen is critical for brain health. That is why some people benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy after a brain trauma, as it helps deliver oxygen into areas of damaged brain tissue in a gentle and safe way, thus helping the brain to heal.
  3. Try to keep your blood sugar (blood glucose) under control. Having oscillating or high blood glucose will drive inflammation and this can then cause more inflammation in your brain tissue. Often people with this situation just need to be educated on the best diet in order for them to positively impact their overall health, including their blood glucose levels. One of the best resources for learning about what diet is best for you is through a functional medicine practice. In this type of practice, improving your personal health and wellness is made a top priority, including finding the very best diet for you.
  4. Try to decrease your stress load! Of course, this is easier said than done many times, but it is usually possible to have a few moments to close your eyes, think of something that makes you happy, or focus on your breathing. Just a few moments, or, better yet, a few minutes, will help bring calmness to your life which in turn will help everything about your body to function better, including your brain.
  5. Positive thinking! Now I know what it is like to wake up in the ICU of a hospital with no idea why I am there, only to find out that I had a head injury. Due to COVID restrictions, my husband was not allowed to visit me in the hospital – thank goodness for the phone line! Returning home from the hospital was a truly positive event and all the very nice friends and family members who wished me well made it much easier to think positively.
  6. Work the area of the brain that got injured. This is a great and no-cost way to help your brain heal! Every area of the brain has a particular function that it is in control of. For example, if your visual center in your occipital lobe becomes injured, you may have more difficulty discerning color shades. Today there are phone apps that allow you to practice discerning color shades and this actually helps the neurons in that area of the brain to heal! And, for people like me whose cerebellum got bumped hard, we have to do balance exercises to help our brain heal! All brain exercises increase the number of mitochondria within the neurons which are the energy production centers within the brain cells. The old saying “use it or lose it” truly applies to brain health. Even when your brain is completely healthy, we all know that we have to keep using our brains in order to keep them healthy.

But, please remember also, that when your brain is injured, it is important to not overwork it either! If you overwork an area of injured brain, you may become fatigued which is how your brain tells you that it is time to take a rest.
There is a lot more to healing from a brain injury, but at a minimum you might want to consider working on the important lifestyle factors of good quality sleep, not being anemic, keeping your blood sugar under control, minimizing stress, positive thinking, and doing specific exercises to stimulate the area of the brain that needs help.

Source: Datis Kharrazian, Neuroinflammation course,

In later blogs I will discuss other factors that are involved in brain health.

Stay well and may the Horse be with you always, safely!



Update October 29, 2020: P.S.  I am no longer having balance issues from my injury back in late July, 2020! I hope this news helps anyone who needs encouragement because our bodies are very capable of healing many challenges when we provide the right environment. 

Make Your Horse Proud and be well every day in every way! 

Thank you, Cate :)

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