Friday, January 01, 2010 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
(NaturalNews) A head-on car collision, a stumble that slams your head to the ground, a wound from a military battle in Afghanistan, a violent criminal assault — these and other causes of sudden blows to the head can result in traumatic brain injury (TBI). According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain. And symptoms can range from dizziness, headaches and memory problems to difficulty thinking, coma or even a vegetative state.
Unfortunately, there is no effective medical treatment for TBI. Although doctors can relieve the dangerous swelling that occurs after a traumatic brain injury, there is currently no way to reverse the underlying brain damage that can lead to cognitive losses in memory, learning and other functions. But neuroscientists think that could change, thanks to a natural treatment. A new study recently published in the online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests natural amino acids hold the key to healing brain injuries.
For the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded research, neuroscientists fed amino acids to brain-injured mice. The results? The animals’ cognitive abilities were restored. That, the researchers stated in a media release, may set the stage for the first effective treatment for cognitive impairments suffered by people with TBI. If these results from animal studies can be translated to human medicine, the impact will be huge, they added — because every 23 seconds, a man, woman or child in the United States suffers a TBI.
“We have shown in an animal model that dietary intervention can restore a proper balance of neurochemicals in the injured part of the brain, and simultaneously improves cognitive performance,” said study leader Akiva S. Cohen, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in a statement to the press.
For their study, the researchers used a mix of three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), specifically leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs are crucial to brain health because they are precursors of two neurotransmitters — glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. These neurotransmitters work together to balance brain activity. Specifically, glutamate excites neurons, stimulating them to fire, while GABA dampens down the firing of brain cells. A TBI can upset this balance and keep the brain from functioning normally.
Frequently, a TBI damages the structure deep in the brain involved in higher learning and memory known as the hippocampus. In their new study, the scientists discovered that an injury to the hippocampus reduces levels of BCAAs. That throws the critical balance of neurotransmitters in the hippocampus into disarray, causing some localized regions of the brain to be more excitable and others less excitable.
To test the idea that dietary BCAAs would restore the normal balance of neural responses to brain-injured animals, the scientists worked with mice that had been conditioned to fear a mild electric shock in their cage. The animals had developed a “freezing” response when placed in the cage because they anticipated a shock. Then the research team created brain injuries in one group of mice with this conditioned fear response and, a week later, compared this group to animals conditioned to the fear response that had no TBI. The injured mice had partially lost their memory of past shocks and so had fewer “freezing” responses.
However, when the brain-injured mice were given water to drink that contained BCAAs, the amino acid cocktail restored their learning ability and they regained the same normal responses as the uninjured animals. Moreover, additional experiments showed that BCAAs had restored the animals’ normal balance of neural activity.
Previous studies have revealed that people with brain injuries show mild functional improvements after receiving BCAAs through an intravenous line (IV). Dr. Cohen stated the new study suggests that BCAAs used as a dietary supplement could offer more sustained benefits than amino acids given through IVs. Early-phase clinical trials of dietary BCAAs in patients with mild to moderate traumatic brain injuries are expected to begin over the next year.