Soldiers who suffer a traumatic brain injury should be fed at least half their normal calories and higher-than-normal levels of protein within 24 hours of injury, according to a new report released Wednesday from the Institute of Medicine.
The report said that feeding the injured soldiers at least 50% of their normal calorie intake and increasing their protein intake to up to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight (their typical amount being about 0.9 g/kg) gives the soldiers energy, reduces inflammation and improves survival. This feeding regimen should be continued for two weeks after injury, the report said.
Traumatic brain injury has been called the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, affecting more than 30,000 service members over the last decade. It’s also responsible for nearly one-third of all injury-related deaths in the U.S.
In a combat zone, protein is not exactly the first priority, John Erdman, chairman of the IOM committee that released the report, said in an interview.
“Think about the war fighter who’s been hit by some sort of a device out in the field or in a truck somewhere,” said Erdman, professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “They could have multiple injuries, they may have lost a limb, they may have shrapnel burns, they may or may not have a medic with them. The first thing that occurs is they need to be stabilized.”
Injured soldiers are often transferred my medevac helicopter to a hospital, Erdman said. “Some of these individuals may end up going from Afghanistan to Germany in two days or longer, and during that time they’re just trying to keep them alive.”
That, according to the report, should change. Based on an extensive literature review, the authors also recommended that the Department of Defense focus research on other nutrients and supplements — such as zinc, creatine, choline and n-3 fatty acids — that may also prove beneficial for traumatic brain injury victims.
“As a veteran myself and having seen what can happen to soldiers when they get hit by these devices,” Erdman said, “I would hope that this will lead to research that will enhance recovery.”
Though the report focused on traumatic brain injury in the field, the same results could hold for traumatic brain injury in other settings, such as professional sports.