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Omega-3 fish oil may help repair brain injury


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Fish oil helped save our son

By Stephanie Smith, CNN

Fri October 19, 2012



It was March 2010. Bobby Ghassemi had been driving fast along a winding road in Virginia when his car barreled off the road. By the time paramedics arrived, he was in a coma and barely alive.


"For all intents and purposes, he was dead on the scene," said Dr. Michael Lewis, a physician who later advised the family. "I'm looking at the reports, and they report a Glasgow Coma Score of 3. A brick or a piece of wood has a Glasgow Coma Score of 3. It's dead."


Ghassemi was airlifted to a hospital. For the first three days, it was touch and go.


Ghassemi's brain was so engorged, doctors needed to relieve the pressure by taking out a portion of his skull. He also had what is called diffuse axonal injury: bleeding that suffused nearly every part of his brain.


"His doctor said to me, 'Listen, he has survived. It is a miracle that he lived, that he made it,' " Marjan Ghassemi said. " 'If he comes out of the coma ... I don't know if he's going to be a vegetable for the rest of his life or whether he'll remember anybody.' "


Ten days later, as Bobby lay comatose but stable, his father, Peter Ghassemi, was sick of waiting and desperate for an intervention. After a series of phone calls to friends, he ended up speaking with Lewis, an Army colonel and doctor.


After some discussion, Lewis proposed something that Peter Ghassemi had never heard about for traumatic brain injuries: fish oil.



Fish oil -- which is composed of omega-3 essential fatty acids, also found in the brain -- had been used only once before to treat a brain injury as devastating as Ghassemi's. That was in 2006, in the case of Randal McCloy, the sole survivor of a mine disaster in West Virginia.


McCloy, 26, was trapped in a mine for 41 hours while the air around him and 12 other miners filled with noxious methane and carbon monoxide. By the time he was pulled from underground, he had had a heart attack, was in liver and kidney failure and had a collapsed lung, according to his doctors.


His brain was also riddled with damage from the carbon monoxide and methane.


McCloy's prognosis was not very different from Ghassemi's. According to his neurosurgeon at the time, Dr. Julian Bailes, restoring McCloy's normal brain function was truly a long shot.


"Randy was really on death's doorstep," said Bailes, now co-director of NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Illinois. "He was really in dire straits."


Like with Ghassemi, once McCloy was stabilized, there was little doctors could do to stem the tide of inflammation and cell death occurring in his brain.


But Bailes and other doctors on McCloy's team resisted the "wait and see" course common in these types of cases and began an unorthodox treatment regimen, including hyperbaric oxygen treatments and high doses of fish oil.


"The concept was then trying to rebuild his brain with what it was made from when he was an embryo in his mother's womb," Bailes said.


The brick wall analogy


That's the theory behind using omega-3 fatty acids to heal brain injury. The human brain, which itself is a fatty mass, is about 30% composed of omega-3 fatty acids, according to Lewis.


In his words, high doses of omega-3 fatty acids, since they mirror what is already in the brain, could facilitate the brain's own natural healing process.


"It really gets down to what I would call my brick wall analogy," Lewis said. "If you have a brick wall and it gets damaged, wouldn't you want to use bricks to repair the wall? And omega-3 fatty acids are literally the bricks of the cell wall in the brain."


Most of the studies about omega-3 for traumatic brain injury are in animals, but they indicate potential for healing the human brain.


After a trauma, the brain tends to swell, and the connections between some nerve cells can become damaged, while other cells simply die.


National Institutes of Health research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may inhibit cell death and could be instrumental for reconnecting damaged neurons.


Another recent study revealed genes that are activated to contain massive damage -- especially inflammation -- when the brain is injured. What activates those genes: omega-3.


"We have strong data that suggest omega-3 will activate good proteins to cope with brain damage and turn off proteins that cause neuroinflammation," said Dr. Nicolas Bazan, director of the Neuroscience Center of Excellence at LSU Health in New Orleans and author of the study.


And besides that, according to Bailes and Lewis, fish oil may be the only solution for brain damage that continues after a traumatic brain injury patient has been stabilized.


"There is no known solution; there's no known drug; there's nothing that we have really to offer these sorts of patients," said Bailes, who along with Lewis received money from companies that make fish oil after their treatment of Ghassemi and McCloy.


The damage to McCloy's brain was profound, according to Bailes. Not only did it experience massive cell death, the protective sheath around McCloy's nerve cells had been stripped during the hours of exposure to toxic gases. That sheath, called myelin, allows brain cells to communicate with one another.


Bailes consulted with a fish oil expert and eventually decided that administering 20 grams a day of omega-3 fish oil through a feeding tube might repair the myelin sheath. (For comparison: A typical supplemental dose for someone with an uninjured brain is about 2 grams a day.)


"We decided to throw the kitchen sink at him," Bailes said. "If we were going to fail, we were going to fail with all guns blazing, so we gave him a very high, unprecedented dose to make sure we saturated and got high levels in the brain."


Less than three weeks after the mine disaster, McCloy was emerging from his coma. Three months after that, he was walking and speaking.


Citing McCloy's dramatic recovery, Lewis spoke with Peter Ghassemi about introducing omega-3 for his son. After that conversation, Peter Ghassemi was convinced and began to pressure his son's doctors.


"It was a fight," Peter Ghassemi said. "They didn't believe, and they said, 'Fine, the West Virginia miner was one case. Bring me 999 more cases, a thousand more cases ... before I can give it to your son.' "


But eventually they conceded, and Bobby Ghassemi was started on high-dose fish oil therapy, at a dosage that mirrored what Bailes had given to McCloy in 2006.


'The whole place was cheering for me'


Two weeks after beginning the regimen, Ghassemi was emerging from his coma.


"We saw hand movements on the left side," Peter Ghassemi said. "Around the fifth or sixth week, there was some movement, and then his hands started moving more, the leg was moving more."


Soon after that, Bobby began to show signs of recognizing his family and his dog and of discerning things like colors and numbers. Slowly, his brain was recovering, and his family ardently believes that the high-dose fish oil is the reason why.


"His brain was still recovering, but with (omega-3), it recovered much faster and in a shorter amount of time," Peter Ghassemi said. "His brain was damaged, and this was food for the brain."


Three months after his accident, Bobby Ghassemi was well enough to attend his high school graduation.


"The whole place was cheering for me, and they all stood up and were screaming and cheering my name," Ghassemi, now 20, recalls with a smile. "I took my graduation cap off and waved it around."


He still has significant left-side weakness and is relearning how to walk, but his progress has been tremendous, according to Lewis.


"In my opinion, and this is pure speculation, he never would have come out of a coma if it hadn't been for the use of omega-3s to allow that natural healing process to occur," said Lewis, founder of the Brain Health Education and Research Institute. "In the end, the brain has to heal itself. There are no magic cures for brain injury."


Large-scale study needed


But what do these two dramatic stories really say about omega-3 as a potential treatment for traumatic brain injury? For now, they are merely stories with omega-3 as a common denominator.


The remaining questions are as poignant as the stories themselves: Could youth have been a factor for Ghassemi and McCloy? What about other treatments given to McCloy, like hyperbaric oxygen? Could they have played a role?


Those and other questions could and should be answered, according to experts, with a large-scale clinical study.


"These two clinical cases where we have a wildly unexpected recovery, was it just luck that they woke up?" asked Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, an omega-3 expert and chief of the Section on Nutritional Neurosciences at the National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Or is there some reasonable scientific explanation for it?


"Given that there aren't any other treatments, this is a good bet," Hibbeln said. "It's really only reasonable to go forward with doing the full press of careful intervention studies."


The implications of a successful study are huge: 1.7 million people suffer a traumatic brain injury each year in the United States.


And research into how omega-3 might function for stroke, Parkinson's disease and early Alzheimer's disease is ongoing.


"The message that I'm trying to get across is, there's more you can do," Lewis said. "If you add omega-3s, we can then begin to let the brain heal itself a little more efficiently."


"Up until the time the pharmaceutical industry gives us a drug that cures all brain injury, this is the best hope we have," Bailes said.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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  • 2 years later...

Wow, I knew omega 3's were good, but not this good!  An amazing , hopeful story.  I love the "brick wall" analogy. It just makes so much sense.  I'm glad I found this.

Many SSRI's and SSNRI's over 20 years. Zoloft for 7 years followed by Effexor, Lexapro, Prozac, Cymbalta, Celexa, Pristiq, Valdoxan, Mianserin and more - on and off. No tapering. Cold turkey off Valdoxan - end of May 2014


                                                  Psych Drug - free since May 2014

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As soon as I am given permission to take fish oil capsules after my septoplasty tomorrow, I intend to resume taking them again to see if it helps with my cognitive issues.   I had stopped taking them as they didn't seem to help.   But I think I just need to be more patient in giving them a longer trial.



Drug cocktail 1995 - 2010
Started taper of Adderall, Wellbutrin XL, Remeron, and Doxepin in 2006
Finished taper on June 10, 2010

Temazepam on a PRN basis approximately twice a month - 2014 to 2016

Beginning in 2017 - Consumption increased to about two times per week

April 2017 - Increased to taking it full time for insomnia

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  • 3 months later...

How much do we need without overdosing on fish oil?


Or we just listen to our bodies when taking this with an antidepressant?

Partner suddenly died 2014. Severe depression AGAIN (had previous episode 10 years ago). I was given escitalopram but could not bear the side effects, so i ask for an ECT (not sure if this helped). During the treatment and my hospital stay I was given Depakote mood stabilizer.  PDOC says I need to take it for two years. After 4-5 months I have a hard time with the Depakote. Hard to get up in the morning. Depression again or Depakote effects? So stopped Depakote (did not know about tapering then)


Januray 21, 2015. Severe depression again, started Pristiq 50mg and clonazepam 0.5 mg nightly. Had confusion, suicidal thoughts, thoughts about death, and find it hard to understand the TV, much more type in a computer.


Had adverse reaction to most antidepressants: muscle pain/spasms, irritablity, restlessness. Also Tried Prozac, Zoloft, Escitalopram years ago.

Started to taper pristiq and clonazepam after four months:

5th month:

2 weeks - 3/4 tablet PRISTIQ   (deducting the clonazepam also, so hard to cut)

2 weeks - 1/2 tablet PRISTIQ   (crumbs of clonazepam nightly)

2 weeks - 1/8 or less (hard to cut really) (zero clonazepam)

Then jump off pristiq.

I just wonder why I was cured during the 10 year period (2004-2014) I have no depression symptoms and no meds either. Pdoc said I might be biploar 2 but it is a "grey" area. Aren't bipolars supposed to be on maintenance meds?! Damn this diagnosis. I am tapering Pristiq either way.

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How much do we need without overdosing on fish oil?

Or we just listen to our bodies when taking this with an antidepressant?

Take a look at the omega 3 fatty acids topic thread: http://survivingantidepressants.org/index.php?/topic/36-king-of-supplements-omega-3-fatty-acids-fish-oil/

Celexa 20mg 2008-2012 for Social Anxiety

Failed attempt to stop reinstated

1 year taper skipping doses

Celexa free 12/2013

1/2014-5/2014 took 5 htp every other day

Failed Reinstatement 5mg of Celexa on 12/2014 for 5 days only

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  • 1 month later...
  • Moderator Emeritus

This is so hope promoting!  It reminds me of a fish based version of Norman Doidge's "The Brain that Changes itself" and "the Brain the Heals itself."  Human neuroplasticity obtained from a fish!


I've also heard remarkable claim for fish oil - and coconut oil (though I confess, the science of that is beyond me) in parkinsons, dementia, as well as traumatic brain injury.  It's been a couple of years (I was looking at this stuff after hubby's stroke, which was in 2010), I seem to recall finding lots of it around Mercola's site.  That's when I switched to coconut oil for all cooking, food, etc.  (I don't think I'm much smarter now, than then - but - what little I have regained, I credit to going off lithium, not to any lipids in my profile, which have been in my supplements since 1998.)

"Easy, easy - just go easy and you'll finish." - Hawaiian Kapuna


Holding is hard work, holding is a blessing. Give your brain time to heal before you try again.


My suggestions are not medical advice, you are in charge of your own medical choices.


A lifetime of being prescribed antidepressants that caused problems (30 years in total). At age 35 flipped to "bipolar," but was not diagnosed for 5 years. Started my journey in Midwest United States. Crossed the Pacific for love and hope; currently living in Australia.   CT Seroquel 25 mg some time in 2013.   Tapered Reboxetine 4 mg Oct 2013 to Sept 2014 = GONE (3 years on Reboxetine).     Tapered Lithium 900 to 475 MG (alternating with the SNRI) Jan 2014 - Nov 2014, tapered Lithium 475 mg Jan 2015 -  Feb 2016 = GONE (10 years  on Lithium).  Many mistakes in dry cutting dosages were made.

The tedious thread (my intro):  JanCarol ☼ Reboxetine first, then Lithium

The happy thread (my success story):  JanCarol - Undiagnosed  Off all bipolar drugs

My own blog:  https://shamanexplorations.com/shamans-blog/



I have been psych drug FREE since 1 Feb 2016!

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  • Administrator

Olive oil is a better overall cooking oil, for your heart and arteries.
I'm not sure about coconut oil. It's quite the fad now. I've added some flaked coconut to my oatmeal in the morning for the purported benefits of lauric acid, etc.
However, I think Andrew Weil's opinion is probably right:


New View of Coconut Oil? - Ask Dr. Weil

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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