Military personnel, especially those in combat zones, face a distinct risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI). The injuries can range from mild to severe, and their effects can appear within minutes or hours—or sometimes weeks or even years later. Although estimates of incidence and prevalence are elusive, some estimates suggest that TBI has accounted for up to one-third of combat-related injuries. TBI also is a major problem among civilians, especially those who engage in certain sports, with an estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related TBIs occurring annually. Despite such health tolls, the mechanisms and damaging effects of TBI on the brain are not fully understood. While some research has explained these mechanisms of injury, new information suggests that nutritional interventions could help in treating or even providing resilience against TBI.
In this light, the Department of Defense (DoD) asked the IOM to review the potential role of nutrition in the treatment of and resilience against TBI. Given the complexity of TBI and the current gaps in scientific knowledge, the IOM could identify only one action that can immediately improve treatment efforts: early feeding to patients with severe TBI. Research has shown that feeding the severely injured soon after an injury is known to help in decreasing mortality. In addition, new information suggests that nutritional interventions could help in treating or even providing resilience against TBI. The IOM identified a number of other possible benefits for specific nutritional interventions and recommends that the DoD and other collaborates conduct more research.