The answer may have far-reaching implications for the treatment of traumatic brain injury, stroke, and other neurological disorders.
Neuroscientist Dr. Donald G. Stein and his colleagues have been investigating this question and have discovered something remarkable -- that the hormone progesterone confers profound neuroprotective effects that improve outcomes and reduce mortality following brain injuries.
Progesterone provides powerful neuroprotection to the fetus, particularly in late pregnancy, when it helps suppress neuronal excitation that can damage delicate new brain tissue. Dr. Stein and his colleagues have found that in addition to protecting the fetal brain, progesterone also protects and heals injured brain tissue.
This is exciting news that could make a major difference in the lives of those who might otherwise be chronically disabled from traumatic brain injury, including stroke. As a natural therapy, it could prove to be both effective and safe.
After 25 years of investigation, neuroscientist Donald G. Stein, PhD and his colleagues have discovered that the female hormone progesterone offers profound neuroprotective effects that improve outcomes and reduce mortality following brain injuries. It may also help those suffering from central nervous system damage, strokes, spinal cord injuries, and multiple sclerosis.
The Remarkable Neuroprotective Effects of Progesterone
During pregnancy, a woman’s progesterone levels rise, which offers powerful neuroprotection to the fetus by suppressing neuronal excitation that might otherwise damage the baby’s developing brain tissue.
However, it appears progesterone can have a similar effect on injured brain tissue, and better yet, can help it heal.
The most obvious benefit is its ability to reduce cerebral edema (brain swelling). But progesterone also appears to help brain injuries by affecting a number of different injury mechanisms:
In response to injury, glial cells, which are critical to normal brain function, release protein-like compounds known as inflammatory cytokines. This triggers inflammation, which leads to edema, which in turn causes the entire brain to swell and function abnormally. Progesterone dramatically reduces the expression of the genes that trigger cells to release these inflammatory cytokines
Progesterone also relieves edema through its effects on water channel proteins called aquaporins. Progesterone decreases aquaporin activity in the injured brain tissue, while enhancing aquaporin activity in the walls of the cerebral ventricles. This may help drain excess fluid from the region of the injury
It also upregulates the expression of genes that inhibit programmed cell death (apoptosis), which prevents the death of injured brain cells
Progesterone may also have protective and regenerative effects on myelin, the protective coating along your nerve fibers, which may help treat diseases like multiple sclerosis
It controls excitotoxicity in your brain, which can lessen the seizures that may accompany a brain injury
Another exciting benefit is that the progesterone injections appear effective in reducing brain swelling and functional impairment even if the treatment is delayed up to 24 hours after injury.
This is good news, considering the fact that many brain injuries may not receive treatment until several hours after it occurred, depending on the circumstances.
Dr. Stein says,
“There are now about 100 papers showing evidence of the efficacy of progesterone that I think even all those doubtful people are beginning to think that maybe we ought to give this treatment a try.”
Results from Human Trials
In a clinical trial known as ProTECT II, one hundred patients with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury were randomly assigned to receive standard treatment for head injury, or identical standard treatment plus three days of intravenous progesterone.
The levels of progesterone administered equated to about triple the natural levels seen at the end of pregnancy.
Normally, the average mortality rate for the types of severe brain injury seen in participants of this study is about 30-33 percent, with conventional treatment.
However, the group treated with progesterone had a mortality rate of only 13 percent – a more than 50 percent reduction in mortality rate compared to those receiving standard treatment!
A Note on Progesterone Delivery Methods
As for administering progesterone, you need to know that some delivery methods are clearly superior to others.
Oral supplementation is perhaps your worst option, as your liver processes everything in your digestive tract first, before it enters your blood stream. Any method that bypasses the liver will therefore be more effective.
Progesterone cream is one common alternative that achieves this. However, since progesterone is fat soluble, it can build up in your fatty tissues and lead to having too much progesterone in your body. This in turn can disrupt other hormones such as DHEA, cortisol, and testosterone. It’s also near impossible to accurately determine the dose when using a cream.
What I have noticed is that many women do really well when they initially go on the progesterone cream but after a few months that start to deteriorate again. This is most likely related to the deposition in fat stores.
Sublingual drops offer the best of both worlds, as it enters your blood stream directly and will not build up in your tissues like the cream can. It’s also much easier to determine the dose you’re taking, as each drop is about one milligram.
So you know exactly how much you’re taking. The direct delivery system also means you can oftentimes take a lower dose than you would need if you were taking it in pill form.
Most any compounding pharmacist can readily make this for you.
Severe brain injuries will of course need professional medical treatment, but the potential for using progesterone as a natural treatment for other health issues aside from menopausal problems is there. For example, progesterone has also been found to be beneficial for prostate cancer.
I certainly cannot make any recommendations for these uses, however it is something you could discuss further with your physician.