Antioxidants Halve The Damage Of Brain Hemorrhage

October 6, 2005

Countless animal studies have shown that the brain injury following a brain hemorrhage can be reduced dramatically with antioxidants. Several clinical human studies are now being conducted.
Next to heart disease and cancer, brain hemorrhage is the most common cause of death in Western countries. Among those who survive, many will face severe difficulties in the years ahead with chronic brain injuries and paralysis. But more and more people will experience a brain hemorrhage because of an increasing number of old people.

Can this gloomy perspective be mitigated? Numerous trials have shown that antioxidants can both prevent brain hemorrhage and reduce subsequent brain injury if the accident nevertheless occurs. This fascinating topic has just been elucidated in a robust overview of researchers from the pharmacological laboratory at the Rene Descartes University in Paris.

Contrary to popular belief, a brain hemorrhage is rarely a hemorrhage. It is far more often a blood clot, which either forms on the inside of one of the brain’s large arteries – in the same way as a blood clot in the heart – or is supplied with the blood. Regardless of the language confusion, the result is the same: parts of the brain on the blocked side get no oxygen and perish, while the victim becomes more or less paralyzed on the opposite side.

This is where the antioxidants come in. They fight free oxygen radicals, which are responsible for the majority of brain damage. The free radicals are formed during a lack of oxygen, but paradoxically, it is not an absolute advantage when the organism breaks down the blood clot itself – or when it is broken down medically, which can more or less be done up to three hours after the first symptoms. The renewed blood supply – this is called reperfusion – unfortunately leads to a massive production of free radicals – and thus further brain damage.
Regardless of whether the blood supply resumes or not, things can go wrong.

Why do these free radicals occur in tissues that do not receive blood or that have only temporarily been lacking blood? The article reviews the possibilities. Certain enzymes e.g, which normally inactivate free radicals, stop functioning. In addition, the weakening of the mitochondria – the energy factories of the cells i.a. – play a role. It is the mitochondria that process the oxygen, and when they weaken, the free (oxygen) radicals leak. It has been proven that the more free radicals are formed, the worse the brain damage.

It is therefore logical to believe that antioxidants can limit the damage. This is also true of a large number of experiments on animals. Here, damage has been reduced by more than 50% by pre-treating the animals with antioxidants such as NAC (n-acetyl-cysteine), resveratrol (the colorant in red wine), lipoic acid (a beneficial and harmless food supplement that is banned in Denmark) or melatonin ( also beneficial, harmless and forbidden for Danes).

With vitamin E, it has also been possible to halve the damage – or more. Of course, it worked best when the treatment was started quickly. Quick help is double help.

There are now several clinical trials on humans, but the difficulty is that you cannot predict when or if a person will have a brain haemorrhage. In the trials, the treatment is only started when the brain haemorrhage has occurred. There are no reliable results yet, and the antioxidants that are tested are unfortunately synthetic substances, which can be patented (and later sold as expensive drugs): Tirilazad, Ebselen, Edavaron and NXY-059. Edavaron is recognized as a treatment in Japan.

What can ordinary people do? The review concludes that antioxidants are “certainly some of the most promising agents against cerebral hemorrhage” and that they are of “great interest” in combination with the medical breakdown of blood clots used today.
You have to choose yourself. But it is worth noting that a solid intake of antioxidants seems to be able to prevent – perhaps tragic – consequences of a brain haemorrhage.

By: Vitality Council

Isabelle Margaill et al. Antioxidant strategies in the treatment of stroke. Free Radical Biology and Medicine 2005;39:429-43.