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Growth Hormone Therapy Can Ease Symptoms in Brain Injury Patients

More than 2.5 million people in the United States experience a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, each year. Many deal with health issues for years after their head injury, such as fatigue, depression, anxiety, memory issues and sleep disturbances.

Now, a new study has found that TBI triggers a reduction in growth hormone. With growth hormone replacement treatment, many of these health issues improve, according to researchers at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

A 20-year study from a team of researchers led by Dr. Randall Urban, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston’s Chief Research Officer and a professor of endocrinology, led the team to name the syndrome “brain injury associated fatigue and altered cognition” or BIAFAC.

The research team’s work on brain injuries began in the late 1990s when Galveston philanthropist Robert Moody asked the researchers whether TBI caused dysfunction of the hormones made by the brain’s pituitary gland and funded research for the study. His son, Russell, had suffered a serious TBI during a car accident, so he was looking for ways to improve the life of his son and others living with brain injuries.

The researchers have been building on the discovery that TBI triggers a long-term reduction in growth hormone (GH). Most TBI patients experience “dramatic symptom relief” with GH replacement therapy, but the symptoms return if the treatment stops, the researchers noted.

“We already knew that even mild TBI triggers both short- and long-term changes to functional connections in the brain,” said Urban. “GH administration has been extensively linked with both protection and repair of the brain following damage or disease, however we didn’t know much about the particular mechanisms and pathways involved.”

The researchers examined 18 people with a history of mild TBI and inadequate GH secretion. The patients received GH replacement in a year-long, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. They were assessed for changes in physical performance, resting metabolic rate, fatigue, sleep quality, and mood. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was also used throughout the year to assess changes in brain structure and functional connections, researchers said.

The study found that GH replacement was linked with increased lean body mass and decreased fat mass, as well as reduced fatigue, anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance.

It was also found, for the first time, that these improvements were associated with better communications among brain networks that have been previously associated with GH deficiency, according to the researchers.

The researchers also noted increases in both grey and white matter in frontal brain regions, the “core communications center of the brain,” that could be related to cognitive improvements.

In another study, researchers said they noticed TBI patients had altered amino acid and hormonal profiles suggesting chronic intestinal inflammation.

“We recently completed a trial to investigate the role of the gut-brain axis in the long-lasting effects of TBI,” said Urban. “We compared the fecal microbes of 22 moderate/severe TBI patients residing in a long-term care facility with 18 healthy age-matched control subjects, identifying disruptions of intestinal metabolism and changes in nutrient utilization in TBI patients that could explain the reduced growth hormone function.”

The results suggest that people with TBI-related fatigue and altered cognition also have different fecal bacterial communities than the control group. Urban said that the findings suggest that supplementing or replacing the microbial imbalanced intestinal communities may help to ease the symptoms experienced after TBI.

“These two studies further characterize BIAFAC and act as a springboard for new treatment options,” said Urban. “We hope that the publications will focus the collective wisdom of the research community to better understand and treat this syndrome, providing hope for many.

“Because these symptoms can manifest months to years after the initial injury and as this cluster of symptoms hasn’t been previously grouped together, it often goes unidentified in the medical community.”

The studies were published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

Source: The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

Growth Hormone Therapy Can Ease Symptoms in Brain Injury Patients

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2020). Growth Hormone Therapy Can Ease Symptoms in Brain Injury Patients. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/01/25/growth-hormone-therapy-can-ease-symptoms-in-brain-injury-patients/153664.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 25 Jan 2020 (Originally: 25 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 25 Jan 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.