Hope for CTE Part II: Healing our American Warriors with Classical Chinese Medicine

By Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

In Part I of this CTE series, I discussed how the pathology of brain degeneration found in patients with CTE is similar to those with Alzheimer’s disease. Part II is presented to further establish the legitimate benefits of Classical Chinese Medicine in the treatment of CTE and other types of dementia.

As we explore treatment options for CTE through the use of Classical Chinese Medicine, keep in mind this information is also useful for maintaining healthy brain function in general and addressing the issues of age related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in particular. 

First, let’s consider the conventional medical treatment options available today for CTE.

From a Western medical perspective, treatment for these types of brain degenerative diseases is not yet established. A quote from the Mayo Clinic’s website regarding standard medical treatment for CTE at the time of this writing clarifies this fact.

CTE is a progressive, degenerative brain disease for which there is no treatment. More research on treatments is needed…” (Mayo Clinic website)

The best treatments western medicine offers today are 1) medications to try and control the severe headaches, seizures and mood disorders related to CTE, 2)  two medications (Aricept and Memantine) that support cognition but do not help regenerate brain neurons or treat the pathology driving the brain degeneration and 3) simple suggestions such as: reduce physical activity, get plenty of rest and write things down to compensate for one’s loss of memory.

Furthermore, one needs to tread the pharmaceutical path with caution since relying on today’s modern drugs has its own risks. Studies are now indicating that excessive usage of a common family of anti-anxiety medications called Benzodiazapines (including Xanax, Lorazapam, Valium/Diazepam) are associated with causing dementia.

So while the symptoms of anxiety are being addressed, brain degeneration is being accelerated. This is the risk/benefit that needs to be considered when taking such strong drugs over the long-term.

Sometimes symptoms, however, are so severe that pharmaceutical drugs are necessary to help a patient cope with life and this is where Chinese Medicine can help not only reduce the side effects of these medications, but also help a person reduce the need for these strong medications as well over time.

In terms of treating dementia however, Western medicine falls way short and individuals suffering with CTE continue to degenerate because there is no prescription medicine to control the progression of this brain diseases or restore brain neuron function.

Do we need to sit idly watching ourselves or loved ones wither and suffer with the progression of brain diseases such as CTE, Alzheimer’s and age related dementia? 

One thing I have learned in almost 30 years of practicing alternative medicine is that there is always hope.

Here’s the good news…

Over more than 20 years of clinical research in Japan, China and Korea has provided extensive proof supporting the use of herbal medicine for the treatment of various types of dementia.

In fact, Chinese herbal medicine has been clinically proven to help restore brain function even after degeneration has developed due to the amyloid and tau protein plaques found in CTE and Alzheimer’s disease. 

But time is of the essence. 

The sooner treatment is started to address the pathological process damaging the brain, the easier it will be to restore normalcy to one’s brain function and to one’s life.

As discussed in my first article on CTE, a primary factor underlying the pathological plaque buildup in the brain that occurs with CTE and Alzheimer’s is due to inflammation from abnormal oxidative stress. The question is what is driving this inflammatory process in the brain.

In Chinese Medicine, brain plaque due to inflammation/oxidation correlates to the pathology of Phlegm-Heat and research shows Chinese herbal medicine can reverse this condition and the related problems of amyloid and tau protein plaques causing the neurofibrillary tangles associated with symptoms of CTE and Alzheimer’s.

Furthermore, it has been clinically proven that Chinese herbal medicine can stimulate regeneration of brain neurons to restore brain function that has been lost as well.

Now that’s exciting!

Classical Chinese Medicine covers all the bases in treating the syndrome of CTE. Through reversing the progression of the disease to restoring the damage done to the brain, Chinese medicine can achieve the ultimate goal of enhancing one's capacity to think and perform daily life activities. 

There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence, too. An article in the 2009 issue of Traditional Chinese Medicine featured Dr. Qiu, a medical doctor with over 40 years of experience, who has successfully treated many patients with advanced dementia using Chinese herbal medicine. 

Though there are a multitude of factors underlying the inflammatory process according to Chinese Medicine, I suggested in my first CTE article that according to Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM), the brain degeneration found in CTE and Alzheimer’s disease is going to be likely rooted in an excess of dampness and heat generated in the Stomach. This is described as both Spleen and Stomach Damp Heat pathology in CCM.  

According to Western medicine, this association is gaining scientific traction in terms of Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes where elevated blood sugar and insulin levels have been found to be involved with changes in brain chemistry that create the plaques in Alzheimer’s disease. 

In fact, the incidence of Alzheimer’s among diabetics is 70% higher than the non-diabetic population.

Keep in mind that according to CCM a person does not have to be diagnosed with diabetes to have an extreme problem of dampness and heat in the Stomach and Spleen systems. Diagnosis for this pathological imbalance can be determined via traditional diagnostic parameters by assessing the tongue, the pulse and the abdomen in Chinese Medicine to evaluate the extent damp-heat is driving the brain degeneration. 

If a patient is having a lot of symptoms such as headaches, irritability and confusion, there is likely too much dampness and heat in the the Stomach and Spleen that is moving into the Heart which is the domain of the mind in CCM. This damp-heat pathology can be reduced via diet, herbal medicine and acupuncture.

In Summary

Chinese Medicine offers a plethora of strategies to address the complexity of pathologies associated with CTE through the modalities of Acupuncture and herbal medicine.

In CCM, for example, one of the key herbs to address damp-heat pathology in the Stomach and Heart systems is Scutelaria Baicalensis. Called Huang Qin in Chinese Herbal Medicine and commonly known as Baikal Skullcap, this potent brain detoxifying herb has been found to modulate GABA receptors to reduce anxiety as well as support brain neuron regeneration. This is one of many herbs that are used in combination with other potent plant and mineral based substances to break up hot-phlegm and support brain detoxification in order to restore and normalize cerebral neurological function.

So keep in mind, there are many viable alternative medical options to empower yourself and restore your health and Chinese Medicine provides a rich history to draw from.

But you need to be proactive and I suggest seek the advice of an alternative medical professional to deal with the complex issues involved with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and CTE to begin your journey to healing and regenerating your brain… so you can once again live life with clarity of mind and a peaceful heart. 

Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, CA, where he specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine & is one of the leading US practitioners of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare non-insertion form of Acupuncture. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com


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