Sports-related concussions or mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs) are becoming increasingly recognized as a major public health concern; however, no effective therapy for these injuries is currently available. ω-3 (n-3) fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have important structural and functional roles in the brain, with established clinical benefits for supporting brain development and cognitive function throughout life. Consistent with these critical roles of DHA in the brain, accumulating evidence suggests that DHA may act as a promising recovery aid, or possibly as a prophylactic nutritional measure, for mTBI. Preclinical investigations demonstrate that dietary consumption of DHA provided either before or after mTBI improves functional outcomes, such as spatial learning and memory. Mechanistic investigations suggest that DHA influences multiple aspects of the pathologic molecular signaling cascade that occurs after mTBI. This review examines the evidence of interactions between DHA and concussion and discusses potential mechanisms by which DHA helps the brain to recover from injury. Additional clinical research in humans is needed to confirm the promising results reported in the preclinical literature.
© 2014 American Society for Nutrition.