Can Fish Oil Heal the Brain?

Bobby Ghassemi was 17 years old when a car crash in 2010 left him in a coma.  Airlifted to a hospital, it was touch and go, as his brain so full of blood.  Surgeons had to remove some of his skull to relieve the brain pressure.  He had severe diffuse axonal injury bleeding.

"For all intents and purposes, he was dead on the scene," said Dr. Michael Lewis, a doctor who later advised the family.

Whilst doctors said it was a miracle that he lived, they did not know how he would be if he came out of the coma.  So his father, sick of waiting, made a series of phone calls before finally speaking with an army doctor who proposed fish oil.

Used Once Before

Fish oil had been used only once before to treat severe brain injury when Randal McCloy, 26, was trapped in a mine in 2006.  By the time he was pulled from underground, his brain was damaged from breathing carbon monoxide and methane.  Whilst he was stabilised, doctors could not stop the brain inflammation and cell death, but resisting the common "wait and see" approach his neurosurgeon Dr Bailes fish oil treatment.

His brain was profoundly damaged not only by cell death, but also the myelin sheath around his nerve cells which allows cells to communicate with each other, was destroyed by the toxic gases.  However after administering Omega-3 fish oil, less than three weeks after the accident, he emerged from his coma and three months after that he was walking and speaking.

'The whole place was cheering for me'

Using McCloy's dramatic recovery, Bobby's father pressured his son's doctors who eventually started fish oil therapy.  Two weeks later, he began emerging from his coma and then to show signs of recognising his family and his dog.  Three months after his accident, Bobby 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," he recalls with a smile.  Despite his tremendous recovery, he still has significant left-side weakness and is relearning how to walk.

Brick Wall

The human brain is a fatty mass, made up of about 30% Omega-3 fatty acids and the theory behind fish oil is that it helps the brain heal itself, like using bricks to mend a wall. 

Most Omega-3 studies for traumatic brain injury are in animals, but they indicate the potential for healing the human brain.  National Institutes of Health research suggests that Omega-3 fatty acids may inhibit cell death and help reconnect damaged nerve cells,  whilst the recent study by Dr. Nicolas Bazan, director of the Neuroscience Center of Excellence at LSU Health in New Orleans provides, "Strong data that suggest Omega-3 will activate good proteins to cope with brain damage and turn off proteins that cause neuro-inflammation."

More Research is Needed: Head Injury UK Brain Injury Claim Experts

These two dramatic examples raise many questions about Omega-3 as a potential treatment for traumatic brain injury.  As Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, chief of the Section on Nutritional Neurosciences at the National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says, "Is there some reasonable scientific explanation for it? 

Until experts undertake a large scale study we will not know, but a successful study could have large implications for the many people who suffer traumatic brain injury every year.  At Head Injury UK we welcome any advance in the treatment of severe traumatic brain injury, especially in cases were medicine at the moment does not provide any answers.  If you or a loved one has been affected by a severe traumatic brain injury, then contact Andy Shaw to see how he can help you.


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