Treating Brain Injuries With Booze?

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The word "whiskey" comes from the Gaelic word usquebaugh, which means "water of life" (anyone know how you get "whiskey" from usquebaugh?) A recent study by Ali Salim at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles found that whiskey—and other liquors—might be elixirs of life for people who have suffered moderate to severe brain injuries.

Salim and his colleagues examined data from more than 38,000 patients with moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries. During admission to the hospital, all the patients' blood alcohol-levels were measured. Thirty-eight percent (14,419) had ethanol in their bloodstreams. People with alcohol in their system spent less time on a ventilator or in the ICU, and suffered from less serious injuries. They were also younger (37.7 years vs. 44.1 years). Nine percent of all head trauma patients die, but only 7.7 percent of those with alcohol in their systems died, compared to 9.7 percent of people without alcohol in their bodies.

The researchers do not understand how alcohol lessens the severity of brain injuries and protects patients from death. "The sociologic implications are important and have been raised previously," the authors wrote in the Archives of Surgery. "It is important to note that we examined in-hospital mortality as our outcome measure. It is well established that alcohol contributes to nearly 40 percent of traffic fatalities, and the risk of dying is obviously increased while driving under the influence. However, the finding of reduced mortality in traumatic brain injury patients with pre-injury ethanol raises the intriguing possibility that administering ethanol to patients with brain injuries may improve outcome."

September 24, 2009 - 7:10am
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