A Potential New Use for Fish Oil?

Over the past week it’s been hard for any regular reader of online news to miss a headline mentioning how fish oil saved a teenager’s life. I briefly saw the title on the homepage of my main news source,  and being that I was in a hurry, I brushed by it in order to catch up with the major stories in the day, despite the fact that it sounded intriguing. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I saw the same article pop-up in my inbox along with my daily e-mails on traumatic brain injury (TBI).As an advocate for TBI awareness, prevention, and proper treatment, it clicked that fish oil could become a common treatment for TBI.  Bobby Ghassemi, 17 at the time, suffered a severe TBI in a car crash in March 2010. He was in a coma and needed to be rushed to a hospital. Within the first few days Ghassemi’s brain had become so swollen that the hospital’s surgeons removed a portion of the skull, seeing it as the only type of relief for the swelling.  A suggestion from another doctor left the family with hope: Ghassemi’s relatives were willing to try nearly any treatment, even that doctor’s recommendation of high doses of fish oil.

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, which contain two acids that could be a key factor in treating TBI. The acids, DHA and EPA, which are the two out of the three found in fish, have been shown to reduce swelling and inhibit cell death, typically seen with brain trauma. The brain already contains omega-3 fatty acids, and many who support the idea of giving high doses of fish oil to those that have recently suffered a TBI say that it helps heal the brain through emulating the brain’s regular condition, therefore influencing the brain’s own natural healing process.

After approximately two-months, Ghassemi had emerged from his coma, was beginning to show movement, and started recognizing familiar people and concepts. After the intense regiment of high doses of fish oil, Ghassemi stayed on a daily dose of fish oil and likely will be for the rest of his life. While he is still regaining his strength on the left side of his body, the improvements in the past three years have been remarkable.

Ghassemi isn’t the only person to benefit from high doses of fish oil after suffering a TBI; Randal McCloy, the lone survivor of the 2006 Sago Mine disaster, spent 41 hours underground loosing oxygen with every new hour. At first, many assumed he would not be able to make a recovery because of the severe TBI inflicted, in addition to the other injuries sustained, but doctors quick decisions to perform a large infusion of fish oil to a TBI victim proved to be a success. McCloy is still on daily fish oil supplements, but his brain function is better than ever expected.
With only two cases of high dose fish oil therapy for TBI victims, larger studies are still need to prove if this could become a successful treatment in all cases of TBI. Experts are on both sides of the table, noting the success of the outcomes, but also cautious about the hype surrounding the issue. However, many of these experts that air on the more cautious side note that they do not believe these excessive amount could be detrimental to a person that has recently suffered a TBI. The FDA is also cautious, stating, “supportive but not conclusive research.” Their point of view makes a case that the two patients who received the treatment were both young males and without a large clinical study, we cannot decisively state the effectiveness of fish oil treatment.

In the US, we currently see 1.7 million sufferers of TBI, which include approximately 1.3 million men, each year. Despite some caution around the issue, if fish oil is proven to be an effective method for treating TBI for multiple populations, the implications would be remarkable.

Scroll to top