The Odd, Healing Link Between TBI and Gatorade

A recent interview with two doctors from Medical College of Georgia delved into their research on traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and how a popular blue food dye might help patients heal more quickly. Dr. John Vender, the Vice Chair of MCG’s department of neurosurgery, and Dr. Krishnan Dhandapani, an MCG neuroscientist, spoke to The Means Report in Augusta in March.

When a patient suffers a moderate to severe head or brain injury, it can lead to immediate swelling around the brain. Researchers had previously discovered that a water channel in the brain, called aquaporin 4, leads to edema, which is swelling or water on the brain. Dr. Dhandapani explained that he and his team looked for potential molecules that might block that water channel and prevent the edema event. They searched medical literature going back 40 years and discovered some correlative data suggesting that ingesting a certain type of dye could decrease swelling in certain indications.

They tested the dye in a pre-clinical traumatic brain injury model, and it worked. In these models, it brought down swelling and improved outcomes. In particular, the dye blocked one inflammatory called interleukin 1 beta. Dr. Dhandapani noted that interleukin 1 beta appears to be a biomarker, in that TBI patients with elevated levels of interleukin 1 beta typically have a worse prognosis with more brain swelling. And the blue dye? It’s a “cousin” of FD&C blue dye #1—found in foods like blue M&Ms and blue Gatorade.

The ultimate goal of “blue dye” treatment would be to prevent the processes that spiral out of control after a brain injury. When the brain swells, the inflammation causes brain compression, which causes loss of blood flow to the brain, which causes cell injury, and then additional swelling.

Dr. Vender explained that part of his job is treating brain injuries in the most acute stage—the three- to five-day window where the brain is at its most vulnerable. He spoke about how doctors can relieve brain swelling by draining cerebrospinal fluid or even cutting a hole in the skull to relieve pressure. It’s possible Dr. Dhandapani’s research could help him with his patients. Although “blue dye” treatment is still in pre-clinical stages and hasn’t reached clinical trials, the goal is to stop the swelling from happening in the first place.

Hypothetically, a brain injury patient would be able to receive the dye, in the form of IV injection, as soon as possible after the injury occurs. Currently, researchers are using mice models with promising results.

More about traumatic brain injuries

It’s important to remember that, just like every person, no two brain injuries are alike. Effects of the injury as well as recovery time, can be completely different for everyone. Someone with a serious TBI might suffer from severe cognitive issues or other extreme symptoms like coma or blood coming from the ear or nose. Those with moderate TBIs can experience lesser, yet still serious, symptoms like headaches, memory loss, depression, mood swings, or difficulty concentrating.

Some might resolve in weeks, but some effects of brain injuries can last for months, years, or for life. And although some TBIs show up on CT scans or MRI, some don’t show up at all and can only be detected through cognitive and visual testing. This is why it’s crucial you don’t ignore any injury to the head, even if it doesn’t seem that serious.

At Crandall & Pera Law, our traumatic brain injury attorneys in Ohio and Kentucky work to secure you the compensation you deserve when you’ve been injured. To schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our team, please call 877-686-8879, or fill out our contact form.