How Fish Promotes TBI Recovery and Resiliency

by Cameron Fathauer


Daily, 153 people die from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the United States.[1]

Cameron Fathauer is a former intern at Schad & Schad. He has a particular interest and expertise in traumatic brain injury. He's currently in college and looking forward to attending law school.

Cameron Fathauer is a former intern at Schad & Schad. He has a particular interest and expertise in traumatic brain injury. He's currently in college and looking forward to attending law school.

TBI is also the leading cause of disability in the USA.[2] The rate of risk for having a TBI is increasing every year. It is, therefore, likely you have a TBI or you know someone who currently has one. A recovery from a TBI and the resiliency to prevent a TBI are created best through a nutritious diet.

“Research clearly indicates that malnourished (TBI) patients have longer hospitalizations and poorer surgical outcomes than well-nourished patients (Garrouste-Orgeas et al., 2004; O’Brien et al., 2006; Tremblay and Bandi, 2003).”[3]

This vague statement from a study on military Nutrition and Brain Injury poses a personal question for all of us—How nutritious am I? If our answer is a negative, ‘not very nutritious, instead of a positive, ‘very nutritious’ then we are not rightfully prepared for any sickness, let alone a traumatic brain injury.

Based on my own experience in recovering from a severe traumatic brain injury, here is one of my favorite foods to eat for optimizing my TBI recovery. I recommend fish, or anything that will give you Omega 3 fatty acids (i.e. fish oil supplements). Not only is fish delicious, fish is key for optimizing a TBI recovery, providing TBI resiliency, and maintaining a healthy life in general.

The Benefits of Fish for a Traumatic Brain Injury

 I think it might be fair to classify fish as the king of all foods. The amount of nutrients and benefits one can derive from eating fish are astronomical. Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (Docosahexenoic acid, DOH), fish provides many cognitive benefits that aid in a TBI recovery and provide better TBI resiliency.

Omega-3s reduce the risk of cognitive decline by aiding cognitive enhancement.

As a person ages, their brain naturally deteriorates as death approaches. Of course, the youthfulness of a TBI patient plays a major role in one’s recovery; however, there comes a point when brain growth becomes brain decline no matter what.

One disease of cognitive decline is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease can happen to the best of us (i.e. 40th U.S. president Ronald Reagan), but Alzheimer’s disease has an increased risk in the traumatically brain injured person.[4]

Thankfully, however, there are ways to help prevent Alzheimer’s and natural cognitive decline through certain nutrients like Omega-3s. In this study, the benefits of fish have been linked to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and overall cognitive decline.[5] This is in part due to the fact that fish increases grey matter in the brain. Gray matter stores information for memory storage and retrieval. People who eat fish weekly are found to have more grey matter in their brains than non-fish-eaters.[6]

Omega-3s increase positive neural activity in the brain.

A lack of the nutrients provided by fish reduces the amount of positive neurons in a traumatically brain injured person. This was shown in a study from the United States Defense Medical Research Program in 2014. Here is a photograph portraying their results from studying traumatically brain injured mice lacking Omegas (‘Deficient TBI’) contrasted with injured mice sufficient in Omegas (‘Adequate TBI’).


Photo Source: Desai A, Kevala K, Kim H-Y (2014) Depletion of Brain Docosahexaenoic Acid Impairs Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury. PLoS ONE 9(1): e86472.

Photo Source: Desai A, Kevala K, Kim H-Y (2014) Depletion of Brain Docosahexaenoic Acid Impairs Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury. PLoS ONE 9(1): e86472.


According to the study’s findings, a TBI mouse having a sufficient amount of Omega 3 fatty acids has more active neurons than a TBI mouse lacking Omega 3s. However, the amount of impaired neurons depends on the level of severity from a TBI. If the TBI is minor, the amount of neural damage will be little. But if the TBI is severe, or severe diffuse axonal, then the axons in the brain are shaken or ripped apart and now require new neural pathways and replenishment. Nonetheless, Omega 3 fatty acids protect and promote neural activity for a TBI patient.

Omega-3s act as an Anti-depressant.

 Nearly half of all traumatic brain injured persons suffer from depression.[7] When the brain is damaged, it is hard to be happy. So, it follows then that a brain injured person likely lacks happiness. Of course, this is also depending on the severity of his or her injuries and the placement of said injuries.

But according to this study, Omega-3s derived from fish are linked to a happy life.[8] The Omega-3s provided by fish act as an anti-depressant because they have been shown to increase serotonin and dopamine levels in person’s brain.[9]

My high school psychology teacher would often take the class on a ‘Serotonin Walk’ to increase the moods of her students. Not saying it was sufficient for increasing every student’s mood, the philosophy behind her thinking was correct: if one increases serotonin, then one increases happiness.

The ability to increase serotonin and dopamine levels is the key component for common anti-depressants like Prozac or Alexa. You can either take these drugs to lift your mood, or eat some fish, or do both.

Omega-3s provide resiliency to TBI.

Not only does fish intake reduce the risk of cardiovascular failure and other diseases, fish intake provides a cushion of resiliency to a traumatic brain injury.[10] Although no one wants to suffer a TBI, the Boy Scout Motto, ‘Be Prepared’, fits accordingly here. Factoring in all of the previous listed benefits of fish, it follows that fish intake or Omega-3 fatty acids help lower the effects of a TBI.


Without the Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, a TBI recovery is diminished because Omega-3s prevent cognitive decline, help repair neural damage, and act as an anti-depressant, which creates a better resiliency to guard against the drastic effects of a TBI.

My Recommendations

1.     Take daily fish oil supplements.

2.     Start ordering salmon when you have the option (or tilapia).

3.     Watch out for fried fish; it kind of defeats the purpose.



[2] Faul M, Xu L, Wald MM, Coronado VG (2010) Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States: emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths 2002–2006 Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. 7 p.

[3] Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury






[9] Yan Q-S, Reith MEA, Jobe PC, Dailey JW. Dizocilpine (MK-801) increases not only dopamine but also serotonin and norepinephrine transmissions in the nucleus accumbens as measured by microdialysis in freely moving rats. Brain Research. 1997;765(1):149–158.