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Treating Concussions With Dietary Supplements? The FDA Says “No”

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Heal your concussion with our supplements. It sounds like the old advertisements for snake oil—only this particular dietary supplement company was promoting something called “Skate Oil” (which is fermented skate – as in the fish – liver oil) to help with the healing of a brain injury.

Just in time for football season, the FDA has issued a statement on dietary supplements, specifically those claiming to heal or speed recovery from concussions and brain injuries.  “We’re very concerned that false assurances of faster recovery will convince athletes of all ages, coaches and even parents that someone suffering from a concussion is ready to resume activities before they are really ready,” said Gary Coody, FDA’s National Health Fraud Coordinator.  The FDA also cautions about claims that the “products can prevent or lessen the severity of concussions or TBIs.”  (www.fda.gov)

It is worth repeating these cautions about dietary supplements because the risk of long-lasting, permanent brain injury is especially real when appropriate medical treatment is not sought. The makers of dietary supplements would like for unsuspecting consumers to buy their potions and concoctions for a variety of ailments, including, in this instance, for the treatment of traumatic brain injuries.  There are, however, many reports linking dietary supplements to liver damage and other serious illnesses, and in some cases, even to death.  (The Legal Examiner, 1/27/14)  There is still no regulation for the manufacturing of dietary supplements.  Currently, these companies have the freedom, and profit incentive, to create any product they want and sell it under the guise of  being “natural” and/or for “treatment’.

A concussion is not an injury to take lightly – it is a traumatic brain injury.  The recovery period from a concussion can be long (years, or even never) and it is unlikely that fish oil or any other supplement is going to speed the recovery time, and, in fact, may do harm. Refusing to see a physician for treatment, or rushing back to play sports, or some other risky activity, may result in more, and permanent, damage to the brain.  (See, e.g., cdc.gov

The American Counsel on Science and Health (ACSH) supports the FDA’s consumer update, and points out the lack of scientific evidence to support the dietary supplement manufacturers’ claims.   ACSH’s Ariel Savransky notes, “People are always looking for a quick-fix, and seeing these inappropriate claims by these supplement companies could potentially result in harm to athletes or others suffering concussions if they believe what they read.” (ACSH.org, 8/26/14).

This writer is particularly concerned about parents and youth who may be convinced by the supplement manufacturers’ claims. Please, take the time to seek medical attention if you, or your child, suffers head trauma and/or  a concussion. Do not rely on unregulated and un-tested dietary supplements to treat concussions unless directed by your physician as part of a treatment plan.

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  1. Andrea Sargeant says:
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    Very different approach in Ontario Canada where the patient is given two lists of foods and supplements to take: one for athletes and the other for the rest of us. As well, a daily protocol of meditation, specific exercise and hands-on therapy. The neurologist I saw had an assistant that gave me a written sheet on it.