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Unorthodox Brain Injury Treatment: Some Think Fish Oil Might Help

The human brain is an extremely complex organ that still holds many medical mysteries. When a massive brain injury occurs, doctors have only a limited number of tools to try to minimize the long-term damage. After doctors exhaust these remedies, the best modern medicine can do is "wait and see" whether the brain can put itself back together.

Recently, an experimental treatment seemed to confirm some limited earlier studies: omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil supplements might help the brain heal. Although much work remains to be done, this new breakthrough could help limit the fallout from future traumatic brain injuries.

In 2010, paramedics found a 17-year-old boy comatose after a car accident. After doctors did everything they could to relieve pressure on the brain from profuse internal bleeding, they decided to try an unconventional approach. They used a feeding tube to administer enormous doses of fish oil.

Despite the massive damage to his brain, the boy began coming out of his coma five weeks later. His recovery accelerated and he was able to graduate with his high school class only three months after the accident.

Nearly a third of the human brain is made up of omega-3 fatty acids. The doctors hoped that a powerful infusion of more omega-3's would allow the brain to repair itself faster. Another brain injury victim showed surprisingly successful results from a similar treatment in 2006 and these doctors thought it was worth a try. Now the boy's parents credit the fish oil for his rapid improvement.

Of course, many questions remain about whether the fish oil actually helped speed up the recovery. This outcome does match some animal studies that showed benefits from omega-3's in the wake of a traumatic brain injury. Medical experts are currently calling for a larger study-but until a better drug comes along, some doctors think that fish oil could help many of the 1.7 million people who suffer a brain injury every year.

Source: CNN, "Fish oil helped save our son," Stephanie Smith, Oct. 22, 2012

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