Help For Head Injuries

If you’ve ever had aching muscles, you may have heard someone tell you to go soak in a bath with Epsom salts. Now, doctors in Seattle say the main substance in Epsom salts may help heal the brain.

Twenty-year-old Brian is teaching Brutus basic dog tricks. A simple enough task, but something no one expected he would ever do. A year ago, Brian almost died in a car wreck. Brian’s mother, Rhonda, says, “The outlook was very grim if Brian ever recovered, he would probably be vegetative.”

However, within hours of the accident, doctors approached Brian’s family about treating him with large, intravenous doses of magnesium sulfate — also called Epsom salts. “To this day, I can’t believe it. I mean, I have it in my kitchen cupboard,” says Rhonda.

This natural substance, available at drug stores, is the focus of new medical research — research which is beginning to show that, when given intravenously within 48 hours of some serious brain injuries, recoveries can be dramatic.

Brain surgeon Dr. Richard says while doctors aren’t certain yet exactly how or why the compound works, they do know magnesium is basic to brain function. “They have less injury to the brain and they have better recovery of their central nervous system.”

Doctors believe magnesium sulfate helps prevent the release of neurotransmitters in the brain which are often over-stimulated by an injury. They think the compound may also reduce swelling and increase oxygen levels in the brain. It’s still early in the study, but doctors say preliminary results are encouraging.

For Rhonda, there is no doubt that Epsom salts brought this young man back to his family. “That boy’s brain is intact,” says Rhonda. “He’s the same Brian that I’ve loved for 20 years.” Brian says, “I’m still me, you know.”

The research being conducted in Seattle will involve nearly 400 patients over the next few years and is being funded by the National Institutes of Health. Doctors have used magnesium sulfate to help prevent seizures in pregnant women with high blood pressure since the 1930s. Although Epsom salts are a common household substance, when it comes to treating brain injuries, it’s strictly a hospital procedure.

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