Despite all the recent studies on concussions and new gadgets designed to help identify brain injuries when they happen, one thing hasn’t changed regarding concussions – the treatment. People who experience mild traumatic brain injuries are still told to rest and gradually return to activity as their symptoms subside. Other than that, there is currently little to no way to “treat” a concussion.
This may be starting to change, however, as researchers from Penn State say they’ve found two new potential ways to speed up and improve concussion recoveries.
In a set of two separate studies from the university, researchers claim that a specialized cooling helmet and an oral supplement made from pine bark extract may help reduce symptoms, improve mental function, and speed healing after a concussion.
“Currently there are no clinically validated tools or procedures to treat concussive injury,” said Semyon Slobounov, professor of kinesiology and an author of the studies. “The results of these studies provide some preliminary evidence that concussive brains may benefit from science-based treatment, such as brain cooling and the use of a new supplement.”
In the first study, Slobounov and colleagues tested an FDA-approved cooling helmet called the WELkins Temperature Management System to determine if lowering temperature around the brain had a noticeable effect on athletes with concussions. They used the device on 24 athletes, half of which had been diagnosed with a concussion. The team then compared MRI scans from before and after using the device to measure its effectiveness.
The helmet is made up of a portable cooling unit, tubing, and a washable nylon head covering designed. When an ice cartridge made of water and propylene glycol is inserted into the unit, the device can chill the head to approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit in as little as 15 minutes.
According to the report in the journal Brain Imaging and Behavior, the concussed participants reported temporary relief from symptoms like dizziness, nausea, and memory difficulties. The MRI scans also showed increased blood flow to the brain after using the cooling helmet.
“This study suggests that compromised brain functioning in the acute phase of injury could be temporarily restored with brain cooling,” Slobounov said.
In the second study, published in the journal Developmental Neuropsychology, the researchers examined an oral supplement called Enzogenol (ENZO) made from the bark of New Zealand grown pine trees and extracted using a specialized system.
Slobounov’s team administered the supplement to 21 student-athletes in various stages of concussion recovery, ranging from immediately after diagnosis to months after the injury. Another 21 student-athletes with recent sports-related concussions were given a placebo for comparison.
The participants underwent preliminary testing using virtual reality and electroencephalography (EEG) before and after being instructed to take the supplement or placebo for six weeks.
The team says that those who were administered ENZO showed signs of decreased mental fatigue, which indicates the supplement could help improve brain functioning following the injury. However, Slobounov admits the hunt for an effective direct treatment for concussions is still in the very early stages.