PTSD: A psychological condition – or the result of a serious brain injury such as CTE?

Rethinking how we diagnose and treat military veterans, first responders, NFL players and others who suffer from TBI, CTE, and PTSD can improve their lives

By Eric Stoffers, CEO, BioXcellerator


  • More than 1.5 million cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI) are diagnosed each year

  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) may be far more prevalent than once assumed and may remain undiagnosed for many years

  • New research shows that veterans, athletes, and others who are diagnosed with psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression have actually sustained physical brain injuries such as TBI and CTE

  • Leading physicians and scientists suggest advanced treatments, such as stem cell therapy and optimizing hormone levels to help heal serious brain injuries

  • Reducing harmful neuroinflammation is essential to treating TBI, CTE & PTSD

  • At the bottom of this article, you’ll find a 7-step multifaceted treatment plan for CTE and PTSD


Chapter 1: Conventional wisdom can cost lives

Chapter 2: What really causes PTSD -- stress or injury?

Chapter 3: Injured brains work differently: Why psychiatry isn’t always the answer

Chapter 4: “The scariest day of my life” Warren Sapp: Athletes teaming up to help veterans fight brain injuries

Chapter 5: Stem cell therapy: A new renaissance dawns for a brighter future treating TBI, CTE, and PTSD

Chapter 6: Reducing neuroinflammation and optimizing hormone levels essential to treating TBI, CTE & PTSD

Chapter 7: A 7-step multifaceted treatment plan to help heal the brain and reduce symptoms of TBI, CTE and PTSD

Chapter 1:

Conventional wisdom can cost lives

We all know the Earth revolves around the sun, but sometimes I wonder what it must have been like a few hundred years ago for Galileo. That’s when the conventional wisdom held that the Sun circled the Earth. Sure it might seem that way, but Galileo knew that appearances can be deceiving — very deceiving.

Perhaps Galileo was first dismissed as some crazy old coot, but when he stuck to his guns and refused to publicly admit to his “mistake,” he was sentenced to death. He wasn’t executed, but he did spend the rest of his life under house arrest.

As the CEO of a world-leading stem cell research and treatment center, I also fight a battle against conventional wisdom. I think it’s safe to say that I won’t face trial and a sentence of death for my views, but others are dying or suffering needless pain — especially our nation’s veterans. That’s because all too many veterans and others aren’t getting appropriate treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While conventional wisdom classifies PTSD as a mental illness that’s treated with medication and counseling, there’s plenty of evidence that PTSD can be caused by an actual physical injury to the brain itself.

Don’t get me wrong. PTSD can indeed result from exposure to stress with no physical injury at all. But if there is a physical injury to the brain, then treating that injury can offer faster and more effective results than relying on medications or counseling. Stem cell therapy as part of a treatment regimen based on new research by leading scientists and medical professionals offers new hope for these patients – if we take action to change our views on how some cases of PTSD may be caused by physical brain injuries and adopt new treatment protocols based on this research.

I’m optimistic that we can. Indeed, Galileo’s discoveries marked a turning point in human history – the Renaissance, when humanity emerged from the “Dark Ages” into a period of enlightenment. Today we stand at a similar turning point, an enlightenment that will reshape the future of medicine – and I’m doing all I can to help.

Chapter 2:

What really causes PTSD — stress or injury?

Today, companies like BioXcellerator and others are helping to usher in that new Renaissance in healthcare and medicine. That’s good news. And while change can certainly disrupt conventional wisdom, we must continue further progress because too many people — including our country’s military veterans and first responders — aren’t getting effective treatment.

Currently, the mainstream view of PTSD classifies this condition as a mental disorder that emerges after being exposed to stress — either a single incident or over a longer time frame, such as during a tour of duty in a war.

In her new documentary, “Quiet Explosions: Healing the Brain” Jerri Sher presents the stories of veterans who were told they have PTSD, but the symptoms were actually caused by a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

While TBI refers to a sudden injury that causes damage to the brain, CTE emerges more gradually – caused by many blows to the head or concussions over a period of years. In fact, at BioXcellerator, we treat many athletes such as NFL players who are subject to this kind of repetitive series of injuries.

This moving documentary reveals that researchers have discovered that many veterans and others diagnosed with PTSD rarely get screened for TBI or CTE, so they don’t get treated for those injuries. In many cases veterans, NFL players, and other high impact athletes struggle in their daily lives. Too many even give up hope. For example, veterans commit suicide at a rate 50% higher than other groups.

As the evidence grows that PTSD isn’t simply associated with TBI or CTE but may be caused by these injuries and chronic inflammation in the brain, it’s clear that improved screening and treatment can help avoid many of these tragic deaths.

Unfortunately, many veterans are told their symptoms are “all in your head.” That’s certainly ironic because while that phrase refers to mental illness, an actual physical injury in the brain can easily be the cause. But for many vets with PTSD, the implication that they suffer from a mental illness creates a sense of shame — a stigma — and many vets I know are too proud to speak up and claim otherwise.

That’s really a shame when you consider that approximately 20% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Chapter 3:

Injured brains work differently: Why psychiatry isn’t always the answer.

At our stem cell clinic, we treat a variety of disorders that span across the entire body, including the brain. In fact, many athletes come to us to help treat traumatic brain injuries and CTE, such as NFL players and MMA Fighters who regularly get constant blows to the head that can cause this condition.

The incidence of CTE in athletes is one reason researchers started investigating how physical traumas like these impact military veterans. When Dr. Bennet Omalu was researching the incidence of CTE in football players, he noticed that scans of deceased veteran’s brains who had been diagnosed with PTSD looked very similar to scans of athletes with brain injuries.

Dr. Omalu’s work – and other studies – led to more research and new testing protocols based on advanced technology and new treatment possibilities.

Another physician, Dr. Daniel Amen, is helping to make more effective diagnosis available to more veterans and others with PTSD.

I admire Dr. Amen for his dedication to this promising research and for opening clinics that provide access to a wide range of advanced brain scans, such as those based on SPECT technology. These scans can help diagnose the physical causes of what was once considered only a mental disorder. What’s more, scans like these are of great value to anyone who wants to optimize their health. I’ve even had my brain scanned at one of his clinics because I take advantage of advanced health testing whenever I can.

Dr. Amen is certainly a hero for speaking up about the serious mistakes we’re making treating physical brain injuries – focusing on psychoactive medications and psychotherapy when treating the injury makes far more sense – and can save lives.

In a Washington Post article, he pointed out that “psychiatry is the only specialty that doesn’t actually look at the organ it treats,” and he explained that new imaging technology helps reveal underlying biological issues that cause symptoms of PTSD.

That seems reasonable, but he’s now a lightning rod for criticism. The headline of that Washington Post article described Dr. Amen a “the most popular psychiatrist in America,” but that “to most researchers and scientists, that’s a very bad thing.”

That “very bad thing” refers to the criticism he’s getting from influential groups such as the American Psychiatric Association. No, it may not match up to the Inquisition that Galileo faced, but it reveals an eerie resemblance to a time in our history when there was resistance to new ideas. But we must make progress.

After all, for 100 years after the American Psychiatric Association was founded (in 1844), the conventional wisdom held that lobotomizing mentally ill patients was a standard and effective treatment. Could today’s standard treatments be considered just as barbaric 100 years from now?

In any event, Dr. Amen’s work — even if not widely accepted — is exceptionally promising in helping those who suffer from PTSD.

Dr. Amen says “Most psychiatrists never look at the brain and can only make their assessment based on symptoms, which is why people often go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed and given the wrong kind of treatment.“

And Dr. Amen has evidence to support his findings. Two studies by the Amen Clinics research team — recognized by Discover Magazine as one of the top 100 science stories of 2015 — showed that brain SPECT imaging can distinguish PTSD from TBI with a 94% accuracy rate – far more accurate than relying on MRI or CT scans, which often show “normal” results in people with PTSD.

Learn more about brain SPECT imaging in this video.

Chapter 4:

“The scariest day of my life” - Warren Sapp Athletes teaming up to help veterans fight brain injuries

Another organization dedicated to research in this area is Cohen Veterans Bioscience. Its mission? “Fast-track the development of diagnostic tests and personalized therapeutics for the millions of veterans and others who suffer from these brain injuries.”

The organization’s approach focuses on moving beyond mere incremental improvement to completely redefine brain diseases and injuries because diagnostic and assessment tools currently used, such as questionnaires, are too crude, leaving veterans to continue to suffer.

According to the organization’s website, “we do not know the causes and mechanisms of most brain diseases, including TBI and PTSD, and consequently have inadequate treatments, no definitive diagnostics and no cures. Without this knowledge we cannot predict disease onset, objectively diagnose patients, identify worthwhile targets for therapeutic intervention, assess benefit, or deliver optimized care.”