It’s a common misconception that it is only women who produce progesterone, though certainly men have far less of it, it is needed for many processes in the body. This naturally occurring hormone can protect damaged cells in the central and peripheral nervous systems and new research done at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, is recommending that progesterone is a viable treatment option for traumatic brain injuries.
This research has emerged because of the increase seen in traumatic brain injury among combat casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is estimated that as many as 30 percent of wounded soldiers have suffered such injury and it has stimulated government interest in developing a safe and effective treatment for this complex disorder.
It seems there is growing evidence to indicate that administering progesterone after such injuries can have beneficial effects, including substantial and sustained improvements in brain function. This applies equally to men and women, as progesterone can cross the blood-brain barrier and reduce the level of swelling after a brain injury, it also significantly reduces the area of necrotic cell death and improves behavioural outcomes.
How progesterone helps with brain trauma
Donald Stein, Asa Candler Professor of Emergency Medicine and director of the department’s Brain Research Laboratory commented that “progesterone works at multiple genes, multiple pathways, and multiple receptors. Not only is it able to stem the devastating inflammatory cascade, it actually helps repair the damage as it blocks all these toxic events, but it also stimulates regenerative repair.”
Progesterone certainly took a step toward proving its worth in the small 100-patient phase 2 trial. Stein and his team were merely hoping to demonstrate that the high dose of the hormone used was safe, so they could proceed to a larger trial.
“Much to our surprise, we saw a 50 percent reduction in death in the treatment group, which was just over the top,” says Wright. “And in a certain subgroup, we also saw functional improvement. That shifted the whole curve from keeping people alive to actually making them better.”
For Stein, applying these positive findings to other conditions only makes sense. “Everything we do has to do with brain injury,” he says. “Whether it’s from a head trauma, a stroke or a tumor, it’s still an injury to the brain.”
The researchers concluded that given its relatively high safety profile, ease of administration, low cost and ready availability, then progesterone should be considered a viable treatment option, particularly as there is little other treatment available to brain injury patients.
This application means progesterone is equally as helpful for men as women so this is really exciting. For women progesterone is also known to be effective at helping with the brain fog and freeze that occurs at menopause as well as having a protective role in reducing stroke risk.