Dr. Donald Stein spent over 27 years researching recovery and restoring function from brain damage due to traumatic brain injury. During that time he had seen information from previous studies that were showing that that women seemed to recover from traumatic brain injury and stroke better than males. He decided to further his studies in the area of recovery and function when he made the connection that the progesterone levels in females seemed to be the difference in their ability to recover better than the males, leading to progesterone’s hope for brain injury.
Dr. Stein found that in animals with a damaged frontal cortex, the females did seem to recover better than males. The recovery was tied to the amount of progesterone, meaning that it did depend on where the female was in her ‘cycle’ at the time of injury. If the female animal was high in progesterone at the time of injury, it was discovered that no brain swelling occured. This demonstrated a much better outcome than when estrogen was higher at the time of injury.
This is cause for excitement, as brain swelling is one of the leading causes of death with traumatic brain injury. Recovery was not only recognized as being better with females, but also males receiving progesterone seemed to perform just as well as females in recovery of traumatic brain injury.
Although the making of progesterone in females is more prominant due to their hormonal changes in their menstrual cycle as well as for reproduction, it is now known that progesterone is not just a female hormone. Males also make progesterone in the brain.
As Dr. Stein began to work with Dr. R. Kellerman and Dr. David Wright in discovering more about progesterone’s benefits on brain function, the lab studies were so convincing that clinical trials grew out of the successes with treating traumatic brain injury with progesterone. If progesterone was administered within 24 hours after injury, it yielded amazing results in controlling the inflammation process, swelling, and the outcome of functional behavior was drastically improved. The standard care of treatment for traumatic brain injury had been surpassed by the survival rates and outcome using progesterone instead. The most amazing part was the difference in recovery for male patients treated with progesterone.
Trauma 1 centers are now regularly doing clinical trials, called ProTECT 3, and are seeing promise that not only will progesterone therapy possibly become the new standard of care for head trauma, but could also be moving into the realm of treating strokes if studies show as much promise in the future.
Progesterone is now understood to be a developmental hormone that is not only made to increase during pregnancy to protect the fetus, but also has the ability to repair processes in the brain as well as other places in the body similar to how it aids in the development of a fetus. The properties found in progesterone’s ability to repair brain tissue seems to be similar to it’s work in the process of development of the fetus during pregnancy. Brain injuries can cause body-wide problems and affect more than just the brain. Because progesterone not only focuses on the brain, but also protects and repairs other areas of the body that are affected by brain injury (such as seen in strokes or seizures), progesterone’s hope for brain injury means that it can possibly stop long term detrimental developmental processes as it acts as a regulatory hormone.