Natural Remedies for Traumatic Brain Injury
Recently a family member told how what amounted to a painful, but not too serious knock on the head sent him into a tailspin of fatigue, confusion, disorientation, and depression for weeks after the incident.
We are hearing a lot, today, about the dangers and life-debilitating effects – and even suicide – of repeated concussions suffered by athletes and soldiers. I was not aware of two primary TBI-related facts: 1) It does not take much of a bump to cause a TBI; and 2) Symptoms can not only persist for months after the event, but brain degeneration can continue over the long term.
According to an excellent post on DailyRx.com…
“TBI is a leading cause of death and disability. In the United States, approximately 230,000 people experience TBI annually, making the disorder a serious health problem.”
Research indicates the attempted suicide rate of TBI patients was 8.9%, compared with only 1.9% in the general population.
So TBI is a much more prevalent and serious problem than I had thought.
Even mild traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that show no signs of structural damage whatsoever, are no laughing matter; chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a long-term result of one or more mild or moderate TBI.
Both neurological disruptions are causing depression, anxiety and increased risk of suicide in athletes and soldiers.
Dr. Lee Goldstein MD., PhD., and Dr. Ann McKee, co-authors of a study from the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation, autopsied blast-exposed military personnel along with football players and a professional wrestler, and included uninjured brains for comparison. The blast-exposed military personnel and the athletes all shared similar CTE pathology in their brains.
Dr. Goldstein estimates that around 40,000 soldiers deployed since 2001 have been exposed to an explosive blast great enough to cause TBI. It can’t be a coincidence that the increase in the use of roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) is tracking with an increase in rate of suicide death among soldiers.
The DailyRx.com also summarizes a study done by the School of Psychology and Psychiatry at Monash University in which Dr. Jennie Ponsford, PhD., and her colleagues found that anxiety, depression and pain associated with fatigue and sleep were associated with TBI.
Dr. Ponsford’s study also claims that: “fatigue is also associated with slowed information processing and the need for increased effort in performing tasks.”
And other research indicates the attempted suicide rate of TBI patients was 8.9%, compared with only 1.9% in the general population.
So far, there is no cure-all treatment or magic bullet medication for either TBI or CTE. However, a review of diagnostic, assessment, and treatment technologies by Steven R Flanagan, Joshua B Cantor, and Teresa A Ashman in the October, 2008 issue of Neuropsychotic Disease and Treatment explores…
…emerging assessment instruments, advances in the realms of cell-based therapies, genetics, promising new rehabilitation techniques, and integrative treatments that combine both complementary and alternative approaches with typical Western treatments that will likely lead to a reduction in TBI-related morbidity and improved outcomes.
Click [HERE] for a link to the full journal article.
The article highlights studies showing positive results for natural remedies for traumatic brain injury including homeopathy, acupuncture, EEG-based therapy, Tai Chi, meditation. A brief survey of research follows:
One double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the use of homeopathic treatment in subjects with mild TBI with results indicating significant improvement and a medium size effect on self-reported functional disability and commonly reported TBI symptoms. It is important to note however that no research has been published in this area since 1999 (Chapman et al 1999). For links to specific research, click on the original article [HERE].
The successful use of acupuncture for treating TBI-related pain, spasticity and altered level of consciousness has been reported in several studies (Donnellan 2006; Tamai et al 2007). In one randomized trial of 30 individuals in post-traumatic coma, 15 subjects received routine medical care combined with acupuncture and point injection therapy while 15 controls received only standard treatment (He et al 2005). Those in the acupuncture condition showed significantly more improvement than controls in language, motor and cranial nerve function.
The results of another study comparing acupuncture to placebo in treating individuals with post-TBI facial paralysis using a randomized two group ABA design in 50 subjects revealed significant improvements in the acupuncture group as compared to the control group (Zhao 2003).
The utility of another therapy of Asian origin, Tai Chi Chuan, has been studied in improving mood, cognition, and mobility (Gemmell and Leathem 2006; Shapira et al 2001).
Biofeedback and Photic Stimulation
Schoenberger et al (2002)examined the effectiveness of the Flexyx Neurotherapy System, which combines biofeedback and photic stimulation (using glasses with light emitting diodes) in an attempt to affect EEG patterns that are known to be associated with cognitive dysfunction after TBI. In a randomized wait-list control design of 12 subjects, significant improvements in depression, fatigue, memory and learning were found.
Mindfulness-based therapy is a Buddhist meditation-based technique that utilizes breathing exercises, guided visualization and group discussion. Bédard et al (2003) examined the impact of a 12-week mindfulness-based approach to reduce stress and improve quality of life in individuals with TBI. [Mindfulness meditation endeavors] to “encourage a new way of thinking about disability and how to approach life to bring a sense of acceptance, allowing participants to move beyond limiting beliefs”.
The researchers used a pre-post design with drop-outs as controls and found improved quality of life scores on the SF-36. Given the success of such interventions in other contexts, further research on mindfulness using more rigorous research designs is warranted (Allen et al 2006).
The article authors point out that most of the cited studies lack adequate control, sample size, or are based on case studies and so do not present any conclusions other than the catch-all “need for further investigation.”
Article authors define integrative medicine as “a medical approach that combines alternative and complementary treatments with traditional Western techniques.”
And they conclude…
Despite the enormity of the [TBI] problem, few data exist regarding effective treatments beyond the very acute period. This is partially because there is insufficient understanding of both normal and impaired cerebral development and function and the factors that impact outcomes post-TBI.
It is almost a certainty that any single future intervention will be insufficient to address the multitude of physical, behavioral and cognitive problems caused by TBI. Therefore, as new technologies and treatments evolve, it will likely become evident that various treatment “cocktails” will emerge that combine approaches to assessments and treatment that will result in improved recovery by tailoring specific approaches to individuals with TBI.
Until then, maybe even when “Western techniques” are developed to treat TBI, a truly integrative approach, including natural remedies for traumatic brain injury, are most appropriate….and maybe even most effective.