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 also 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 and CTE
At the bottom of this article, you’ll find a 7-step multifaceted treatment plan for CTE and PTSD
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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 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 exclusively 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 and change our evaluation process, understanding that some patients suffering from symptoms of PTSD may also have suffered physical brain injuries – then we can adopt new treatment protocols to help them recover and improve their quality of life.
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.
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 unfortunate because while that phrase refers to mental illness, many of these veterans may have sustained an actual physical injury in the brain. 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 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.
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 should certainly be commended 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.
“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.”
How to move forward? The organization says that “we need to rethink how we study brain disease, how we define it, how we identify new targets, and how we advance precision therapeutic approaches. We need to do science at scale and embrace the complexity of disease.”
I’m also pleased that professional athletes are getting involved in this battle, speaking up to support veterans who don’t share the same limelight that well-known athletes do.
One of those athletes, NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, is featured in a series of videos supporting Cohen Veterans Bioscience. In these videos, he bravely shares his own struggles with brain injury and reveals how these conditions can be frustrating and scary.
“I was losing keys. I’d forget what I was going to the store for. But I never knew because I never read up on (symptoms of brain injuries). But when I did, I said, ‘that was me to a T,” he explains.
Warren tells the story of driving to meet a friend one day and then just couldn’t remember where he was going or why – so he returned home in state so confused, he describes it as “the scariest day of my life.”
Yet while Warren acknowledges his fear, he knows full well that because athletes and veterans can both suffer from the same type of brain injury, someone needs to stand up for veterans who are “the true warriors and the real heroes.” As he points out so eloquently, when football players go on a road trip, they come back—and get paid. But some veterans never come back.
He also points out the value of a “team effort” in treating these injuries.
“To the true heroes that stand a post with a gun, please let your guard down and let us help. Let loved ones know. You can get treatment, but you can’t do this yourself,” he says.
“I like to think I’m a bad boy out there on that football field but if I’m there out there by myself, I’m about to get whooped. You’ve got to form your own team around you. It’s not just something that’s going to go away,” he adds.
Well said, Warren.
Stem cell therapy: A new renaissance dawns for a brighter future treating TBI and CTE
Even though the idea that the sun circled the Earth was accepted as fact for thousands of years, as science evolved, that view changed. We need to reframe our views today on how mental health and the brain itself aren’t as separate as we once thought.
As CEO of BioXcellerator, I recognize that I may be biased, but there is plenty of objective evidence that stem cell therapy can make a big difference. I’ve seen how stem cell therapy can help patients with TBI, CTE and other neurological disorders.
The results may not be immediate – but most patients demonstrate improvement in the first few months and then gradual, yet consistent ongoing improvements over the following 6 to 12 months — especially when stem cell therapy is part of our 7-step treatment regimen based on a more holistic approach to therapy. I’ll outline that treatment plan, but first let me explain how stem cell therapy fits within that regimen and why it offers exceptional promise in helping patients with brain injuries.
Stem cell therapy works because stem cells have the ability to enhance immunity and promote healing by amplifying our body’s natural ability to fight disease, reduce inflammation, and regenerate damaged tissues.
You see, all the cells in our bodies grow old and deteriorate over time. That includes cells in our muscles, on our skin, nerve cells, and all types of cells. These cells all specialize in one specific biological function, so they look and function very differently.
What’s fascinating about the cells in our bodies is that while cells may look very different, they all contain our entire DNA. That’s because each began as a stem cell from bone marrow and other tissue. When new cells are needed, the body turns these stem cells into specific cells needed for healing. In a way, these stem cells are the body’s own natural “repair kit.”
Unfortunately, stem cell production declines as we age, but an infusion of millions of new high-potency stem cells repair and heal nervous system cells to alleviate symptoms of CTE and TBI.
One reason why stem cell therapy may not be widely accepted among physicians different types of cells used at various clinics may not be as potent.
For example, at BioXcellerator, we provide treatment at our clinic in Medellin, Colombia using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from donated umbilical cords. Research shows that these cells are among the most effective in stimulating healing, modulating the immune stem, and reducing inflammation. Once these cells are tested and screened for specific biomarkers, these cells are cultured and expanded into infusions of millions of high potency cells that studies suggest offer better results than other stem cell treatments.
We treat a wide range of conditions and disorders, but it’s exceptionally moving to me to see patients who couldn’t remember even recent events gain far more brain function, especially when their doctors had told them to never expect much improvement.
Stem cell therapy patients have reported better mental function, improved mood and motivation, and fewer symptoms following stem cell treatment — and they noted continual improvement over the next several months
Patients also reported the return of an overall feeling of wellness, energy, strength, and vitality
Patients said their memory improved, they were less irritable and therapy improved their quality of life
Of course, one essential aspect of treatment is accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately disorders such as CTE (as well as other brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) can’t be definitively confirmed until autopsy after a patient has died. But new advanced testing protocols of patients with a history of repeated brain trauma and concussions associated with symptoms of CTE can help us improve treatment to help more patients with serious brain injuries.
Note that CTE is a diagnosis made only at autopsy by studying sections of the brain. So when we refer to treating CTE, we are referring to treating patients who have a clear history of repeated brain trauma (concussions) and are experiencing symptoms of CTE.
Reducing neuroinflammation and optimizing hormone levels essential to treating TBI, CTE & PTSD
As I’ve explained, stem cell therapy is based on the science of how the body heals itself, not just regenerating new cells to heal brain injuries, but also to enhance overall health. For example, when the body is given new stem cells, those cells are also used to modulate the immune system and also reduce inflammation.
While once considered relatively benign, inflammation can result in damage to virtually every organ in the body, including the brain.
Recent research shows that the inflammation from brain injury — neuroinflammation — can not only affect mood and personality, but also impact other bodily functions such as heart rate and blood pressure.
Dr. Mark Gordon is certainly familiar with brain health. He wrote Traumatic Brain Injury - A Clinical Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment based on his experience treating veterans with traumatic brain injury.
His work shows how psychological disorders can easily be caused by undiagnosed brain injuries that can’t be healed with psychotherapy and medications alone.
Dr. Gordon says that regardless of the actual cause of trauma — physical, emotional, or chemical — that trauma can trigger the production of inflammatory chemicals such as cytokines and chemokines by neurons and glia cells in the brain.
“The longer these chemicals are produced and in contact with your neurons, the greater the destruction of cells and signaling pathways that allow us to function appropriately, he explains. “What we develop are changes in psychological, physical, and physiological functioning. Decrease the inflammation and you change the outcome.”
He adds that his treatment protocol “focuses on reducing inflammatory chemicals, supporting deficient neuro-steroids and reestablishing a neuro-permissive environment so that your brain can heal.”
Currently working with the VA to help veterans heal from brain injuries, Dr. Gordon founded Millennium Health Centers and is associated with the Warrior Angels Foundation. That’s an organization he co-founded with Andrew Marr, the veteran who was featured in the “Quiet Explosions” documentary.
If you watch the documentary, you’ll learn the story of how Andrew, a Special Forces Green Beret, returned from his third deployment “a quietly broken man.” He was a high-ranking explosives expert who suffered many brain injuries after being “front and center” to hundreds if not thousands of detonations in Afghanistan.
This story puts the spotlight on treatments that extend beyond stem cell therapy to not only treat brain injuries, but to help patients live longer and healthier lives. Dr. Gordon certainly recognizes the value of therapies that can reduce the impact of aging — embracing a holistic approach to healthcare that’s embodied in the mission of my own company, and hopefully one embraced by the entire healthcare community in the years ahead.
Dr. Gordon has applied his research to develop a protocol for treating TBI based on research that shows how reducing inflammation can improve brain health – easing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and controlling mood swings.
The foundational premise of Dr. Gordon’s protocol is to reduce inflammation – as soon and inflammation is reduced – in the majority of patients symptoms begin to ease.
This protocol includes:
Optimizing hormone levels / hormone replacement therapy
An anti-inflammatory diet
Supplements such as quercetin, zinc, Vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids, DHEA, pregnenolone, and EGCG that can boost immunity and improve brain function – also helpful in boosting immunity against COVID-19
Dr. Gordon’s protocol emphasizes optimizing hormone levels because his research shows that up to 76% of TBI patients lose pituitary hormone function immediately after a brain injury and even more function in the year after an injury. That results in hormonal deficiencies that are critical to over health throughout the body – including the brain.
Based on testing, his protocol works. Dr. Gordon has treated more than 3,000 patients over the past 17 years. In a group he began treating in 2020, 70% of patients demonstrated an improvement of at least 50% — results are usually seen in the first one to four weeks after treatment. It’s clear that this approach to reducing inflammation and optimizing hormone levels foreshadows a new future for treating brain injury that totally changes our perspective.
So why don’t we move more quickly? Fast-track all this research? On a recent podcast with Joe Rogan, Dr. Gordon gave us some insights on why mainstream healthcare providers seem so ignorant of new research on the link between PTSD and physical brain injuries. According to Dr. Gordon, most physicians don’t have time to read more than a few of the big medical journals, such as Lancet, JAMA, and the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Most doctors look to these key journals to get all their information, but all the information is filtered,” he says. That paradigm continues because “they serve a purpose for other entities” – to maintain the status quo.” That’s why Dr. Gordon makes it a point to dig deeper so that the medical community can access more of this important, yet not widely shared, research.
Joe Rogan also made a good point in that podcast. He said that “because there's so many studies, you can include the ones that suit your needs, and ignore the ones that are correct.” suggesting that this is a way anyone with a vested interest in being “right” can selectively choose data to support their interests. You can listen to Dr. Gordon’s full podcast on the Joe Rogan Experience here.
It’s not a matter of being right – but doing the right thing to help patients.
A 7-step multifaceted treatment plan
to help heal the brain, reduce symptoms of TBI, CTE and PTSD and improve the quality of people’s lives - based on advanced technologies and new research
More accurate diagnosis, through a thorough clinical history and evaluation, plus using new technologies such as SPECT brain scans used at Dr. Amen’s clinics
Comprehensive testing, to evaluate hormone levels, specific biomarkers, allergies, and sensitivity testing to eliminate foods that may cause inflammation that can damage cells
An anti-inflammatory diet, plus immunity and cognitive-enhancing supplements
Optimizing hormone levels / hormone replacement therapy that Dr. Gordon’s research shows can help treat veterans with CTE and other brain injuries
Stem cell therapy to promote healing of the brain and entire body, modulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, and regenerate damages tissues
Support from a team of friends, family, colleagues, and mental health professionals
Finding a renewed sense of purpose in life: a mission, meaningful work, goals worth pursuing
This is not a one size fits all treatment plan, treatment protocols are personalized for each patient. This is a 12-month+ program, though many patients experience improvement in the first 2-4 weeks.
Challenging conventional wisdom certainly requires bravery. Indeed, as Galileo found out, that bravery can even result in a trial and death sentence.
But too many brave veterans are still dying today. Not only have they faced death in battle, they face an uncertain future if we don’t change the way we identify and treat serious brain injuries.
With the help of organizations such as Cohen Veterans Bioscience and the leadership of individuals like Dr. Gordon, Dr. Amen, and many others not afraid to speak up, we can help more veterans get the treatment they deserve.
Links to learn more about the science, research, and services referenced in this article.
DISCLAIMER: The people cited in this article are well-trained experts and highly skilled in their areas of practice. They take many safety precautions prior to implementing these programs. The supplements, therapies, and research discussed in this article should not be attempted without qualified supervision with healthcare professionals.
NOTE: I’m aware that military veterans, first responders and many others suffer from PTSD – as a result of a traumatic event or events – and the emotional and psychological post-traumatic stress that can result in extreme anxiety and depression from these events. I’m not discounting that reality at all. This article focuses on healing the brain as result of brain trauma, to explain the need for improved diagnosis of CTE and PTSD, and to call attention to the seriousness of brain injuries.
If you know someone who is suffering from TBI, CTE or PTSD and needs help, contact one of BioXcellerator’s dedicated Patient Advocates at 1-888-567-2469.
If you’re interested in learning more about advanced stem cell therapy and determining if stem cell therapy is right for you.