Typically the result of a car crash, severe fall, physical violence or sports-related accident, a spinal cord injury (SCI) is devastating…and more often than not irreparable…damage to the spine.
There are approximately 200,000 cases of spinal cord injuries in the United States. It may surprise you to discover that men make up 80% of all diagnosed cases and the prognosis varies from case to case from mild to severe damage.
The most crippling of spinal cord injuries results in partial to complete paralysis. And the far-reaching effects of an SCI can impair breathing capabilities and gastrointestinal and urinary processes, and cause major depression.
The cost for lifelong care after a spinal cord injury can be as much as $3 million.
Christopher “Superman” Reeve is one of the most well-known and well-publicized cases of spinal cord injury in recent medical history.
When he was thrown from his horse in 1995 – shattering the top two vertebrae of his spinal column and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down – the world’s attention was drawn to a condition that impacts the lives of more than 12,000 people every year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Reeve’s condition was classified as “Grade A” according to the established guidelines from the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA). He was not only completely paralyzed – he was unable to breathe on his own. For five years, his diagnosis remained the same and doctors doubted there would ever be improvement.
The “Man of Steel” Refused to Give Up Hope
He then participated in a program through the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. After three years of focused exercise that re-trained the atrophied nerves around his spinal column, Reeve was reclassified to “Grade C” on the ASIA scale due to improved neck, motor and sensory function.
Christopher Reeve died in 2004 from heart failure. What amazed his doctors was that his spinal cord injury and subsequent improvement was the first real evidence that damaged areas of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) can regenerate…even years after injury.
Omega-3 and Turmeric: Powerful Preservers of Walking Ability
Steroid injections are the most commonly used method of treating spinal cord injuries. However there is a fine line between an effective dose and a harmful one. Serious side effects, such as blood clots, pneumonia and breathing-difficulties, have caused the FDA to delay approval of steroid use for spinal cord injuries.
A recent study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine and conducted by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, highlighted the breakthroughs scientists made with rats suffering from spinal disorders.
Three groups of rats were fed different diets:
- 1) One was given normal rat food.
- 2) Another was given a diet high in fats and processed sugars.
- 3) A third was given a diet rich in antioxidants with documented anti-inflammatory properties, specifically docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) – an omega-3 fatty acid – and curcumin (the compound that gives turmeric its yellow coloring).
The results from the third diet were astounding. DHA has been shown in other studies to repair cell membrane damage but scientists discovered that the healing capabilities of omega-3 fatty acids include the ability to protect nerves after an accident or injury and to prevent cell death.
This total cellular protection is crucial to successful nerve injury recovery.
Curcumin’s role in recovery includes relieving and reducing inflammation, thereby preventing further nerve damage and speeding recovery. Curcumin is such a potent antioxidant that it has been shown to rebuild brain cells and aid in stroke prevention.
Dr. Langston Holly, associate professor of neurosurgery at UCLA and lead investigator, stated, “While surgery can relieve the pressure and prevent further injury, it can’t repair damage to the cells and nerve fibers. We wanted to explore whether dietary supplementation could help the spinal cord heal itself.”
Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery and co-author of the study, said, “DHA and curcumin appear to invoke several molecular mechanisms that preserved neurological function in the rats. This is an exciting first step toward understanding the role that diet plays in protecting the body from degenerative disease.”
Not only is curcumin beneficial to total body wellness, but it is also delicious. Countries all over the world use this unique spice to add flavor and color to their local cooking.
Cuisines High in Curcumin:
- Indian Cuisine – Used in dishes such as Rogan Josh (lamb curry) and Sag Aloo (curried spinach and potatoes).
- Indonesian Cuisine – Found in Sayur Lodeh, a popular Indonesian vegetable dish served with a coconut curry sauce.
- Thai Cuisine – Used in a variety of curry pastes in popular fare including Thai Jungle Curry, based on a famous dish from Chiang Mai.
- Caribbean Cuisine – Used in many well-known favorites such as curried chicken and Jamaican goat curry.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Protect Against Nerve Denigration
A similar study analyzed just how omega-3 fatty acids protect against nerve damage. The study — conducted by a group of researchers led by Adina Michael-Titus, Professor of Neuroscience at Barts and The London Medical School and lead of the Neurotrauma and Neurodegeneration group in the Centre for Neuroscience and Trauma, Queen Mary, University of London — focused primarily on omega-3 fatty acids.
Researchers initially simulated injury in the mice and then followed up with a treatment plan of omega-3. The fatty acid slowed cell degeneration, protected against further damage, and aided in rapid recovery from sciatic nerve injury.
The human body does not naturally produce omega-3 – which is an essential nutrient – so you must get it through your diet.
Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Leafy greens – spinach, kale and grape leaves
- Brightly colored fruits and vegetables – peppers, carrots, tomatoes and citrus
- Spices – basil, chili pepper, cloves and mustard
- Fatty fish – salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring
- Seeds and nuts – sunflower seeds, almonds, pecans and walnuts
“These fatty acids could have beneficial effects in a number of neurological conditions. This new study suggests that they could also have a role in treating peripheral nerve injuries. Our research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids can protect damaged nerve cells, which is a critical first step in a successful neurological recovery,” said Dr. Michael-Titus.
There is much research still to be done but scientists around the world are excited about these initial breakthroughs.
Patients partially or completely paralyzed due to spinal cord injury could find hope for nerve regeneration in natural therapies – as simple as diet – where once there was none.