A new way of thinking about brain injury
Times Staff Writer
It was a late-March afternoon.
Powderhorn resident Julie Klug had just returned to the family ranch from work, and she was expecting her children to be home from school at any minute. Instead, a jeep — in which her son was riding — pulled into the driveway. There had been an accident.
Julie and her son drove to the scene to find the family vehicle upside down. Her daughter, Sydnee, was still in the vehicle.
With the help of a passerby, Sydnee was freed from the vehicle, and emergency medical responders arrived shortly afterward. But the then-high school freshman lost consciousness and didn't regain it until she was at Gunnison Valley Hospital.
Sydnee said what followed were days of “fuzziness” — not being able to remember conversations or other details.
However, eight months after the accident, Sydnee is fully recovered — for which her mother credits a special diet high in essential fatty acids (EFAs) and use of the hemp-derived substance CBD. Now, Julie is on a mission to spread the word about the approach to healing traumatic brain injuries in hopes of helping others.
A natural approach to healing
Doctors evaluated Sydnee and diagnosed her with a traumatic brain injury. They also indicated her recovery could be quite long.
Prior to the accident, Synee took a regular dose of fish oil which contains Omega-3 fatty acids. Doctors said the supplement should be discontinued because of the potential for its blood thinning properties causing a "brain bleed."
Still, Julie was determined to give her daughter the nutritional support she needed to heal. She believed the fish oil would help despite doctors’ recommendation, and she took Syndee’s diet a step further.
Julie consulted with a Maryland doctor, an authority on brain health and rehabilitation of concussions and traumatic brain injuries. Dr. Michael Lewis founded the nonprofit organization Brain Health Education and Research Institute and has authored the book, "When Brains Collide."
In addition to following the traditional protocol of rest and rehabilitation for brain trauma, he recommended even higher doses of Omega-3 fatty acids, and the addition of CBD oil.
Lewis believes that by "saturating the brain" with high levels of EFAs, the brain can get the nutrients it needs to heal itself.
"The brain is made of fat," Lewis told the Times. "It's an integral part of the cell membrane. You are what you eat. If you're not eating as much Omega-3s, your brain is going to reflect that."
Medical professionals routinely recommend that EFAs be stopped in the event of a brain trauma, but Lewis said the concern is unfounded.
"Bleeding is what everyone raises as the first and big concern," he said. "It has never been shown to be an issue in any clinical trial."
Lewis additionally recommended CBD be given to reduce anxiety, irritability and reduce inflammation. Lewis said CBD helps with chronic pain as well and can be useful in treating fibromyalgia — a disorder that amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way the brain processes signals.
‘The one thing I have is a voice’
Julie admitted she was hesitant at first to give her daughter CBD oil because of the stigma associated with it. Both hemp and marijuana are the same plant species. But hemp contains less than 0.3 percent of THC, the psychotropic property for which pot is famous. Since it does not have much THC, it is considered a nutritional supplement and can be purchased online.
Julie herself says she has "demonized" the use of cannabinoids. But when she learned more about the healing properties of the plant — in addition to Lewis’ recommendation — she decided to try it. She pointed to the federal government's 2003 patent on cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants as further justification for their use.
More recently, she noted, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed hemp-derived CBD from its 2018 List of Prohibited Substances, allowing athletes to use the substance to treat pain and inflammation.
By Easter of last year — just a few weeks after the accident — Julie noticed a complete change in her daughter. Her motor skills — which had been severely impacted from the accident — appeared normal. Sydnee continued to attend school — although only half-day — and she took her final exams in school.
"She aced them and stayed on honor roll," Julie said. "She's had very few breakthrough headaches since she has been on (the protocol)."
Sydnee also helped on the family's ranch in Powderhorn all summer — physically demanding work.
Sydnee said she feels fine now, although the transition back to school from summer was challenging. And using a CBD product carries no stigma for her.
“My mom just gives me a handful of vitamins to take every day,” Sydnee said. “So it’s no big deal.”
Julie and Lewis both believe Sydnee’s use of fish oil prior to the accident may have prevented additional trauma. Julie is convinced more people need to know this information.
"The one thing I have is a voice," she said.
(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)