By Dr Donna Schwontkowski
Health & Fitness Magazine – November 2001
From our book Bypassing Bypass, published in 2002
Thirty years ago, if you had a stroke or traumatic brain injury, your future was bleak. “At that time the medical profession in general did not believe that a brain-damaged person could recover beyond what physical therapy could do for the person. Even then, fifty percent of the doctors thought that physical therapy had no value while the other 50% thought it might have some value so were at least willing to refer their patients to physical therapists,” Dr David Steenblock, D.O. says. Dr Steenblock is the Founder and Director of The Brain Therapeutics Medical Clinic in Mission Viejo, California. He is a pioneer in brain repair, working with not only stroke patients, but also those with cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, autism, migraine headaches, and Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Steenblock is an osteopathic physician, well versed in biochemistry, nutrition, and safe, effective therapies for patients suffering from chronic degenerative diseases.
“(Back then) It was very pessimistic. Everyone in the field had written these people off as hopeless…the doctors had no tools to help them.” In 1990, Dr Steenblock attended the 6th Annual conference on Hyperbaric Medicine in Amsterdam that totally changed the way he treated those with brain disorders. One of the presenters, Dr Richard Neubauer, showed videos of patients before and after treatments in a hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) chamber. One particular patient, wheelchair-bound, and unable to speak or eat, had exhausted all the conventional methods used for rehabilitation for brain injury over a 3 year period, and was finally told that nothing else could help him. After Dr Neubauer treated him daily for four months with hyperbaric oxygen, the man happily walked onto a stage, shook Dr Neubauer’s hand, returned back to work, and was able to enjoy his life again. With his own brain’s reels running at high gear, Dr Steenblock saw the potential for his own patients, reviewed all the scientific journals on the treatment, and began his own research of what would work for each of his own patients.
Research shows that hyperbaric oxygen alleviates oxygen deficiencies, reduces brain swelling, repairs damaged cell membranes, stimulates the growth of neural stem cells important for neural re-growth, neutralizes toxins, enhances immune defenses, renews “sleeping” or “dormant” neurons, and stimulates the growth of new blood vessels in the damaged tissues.
The frontier for a pioneer in any field is filled with obstacles. Dr Steenblock’s first obstacle was what to do with a patient, Dorothy, who had been repeatedly warned she would have a stroke unless she changed some of her daily habits. Refusing to change, she eventually suffered a massive stroke in her own home. Her family immediately called Dr Steenblock for advice. This was a chance to confirm that HBO treatments really did work, like the other researchers reported.
Dr Steenblock treated Dorothy with HBO for one hour. His hope was starting to fade when he realized there was no response. He had to do something to help her. He then administered intravenous catalase, superoxide dismutase, mannitol, EDTA and other agents for three hours. A little improvement was seen, but he needed a lot more. After repeating HBO and I/V treatments over an entire 24-hour period, Dorothy amazingly walked out of the clinic, and never needed physical therapy. There truly was a bright future for stroke victims if they were treated as soon as possible after the injury.
But what about those who had suffered a stroke a long time ago – patients like Sophie who had a stroke ten years prior and still was miserable. They needed something new to get them back on track. Sophie had told Dr Steenblock that she felt she had only two choices in life – to exit the world or exit her wheelchair. He treated her daily with HBO and other supportive modalities. Ten days later, she screamed in delight down the halls of the clinic about how she was now walking; ready to start gardening again, and now going to the bathroom on her own. Her life was totally changed.
Each brain-injured patient has specific needs that must be considered for his/her own individualized brain repair treatment program. Those with high cholesterol, diabetes and other degenerative diseases must confront these “other” issues along with the brain injury for maximal recovery. “In some cases, antibiotics like tetracycline or doxycycline are essential for treating the nanobacteria which are associated with calcification of blood vessel walls. These nanobacteria are responsible for autoimmune reactivity as well,” Steenblock says. If the blood vessels aren’t working properly, it is difficult to get healing nutrients into the tissues that need to be healed.
The latest treatment Dr Steenblock has developed is one that falls under the broad term of Adaptagenic Medicine. The purpose of adaptagenic medicine is to create a situation where the patient will adapt to stress more easily on the physiological level. To do this, a patient is treated with HBO which increases the ATP levels in the mitochondria of the brain damaged tissues, followed by 30-60 minutes in a “high altitude simulator”. The change in barometric pressure then creates hypoxic stress. This stress “turns on” the body’s stress protection mechanisms, activating close to 700 different genes, which then produce many substances (e.g., hormones and enzymes) to repair the body. One substance produced has great potential as an anti-aging and detoxification remedy. This is called ubiquitin, pronounced- “you be quit in”. The name indicates that it is involved with the destruction or repair of abnormal and damaged cellular proteins of the type that result from aging, hypoxia (deficiency of oxygen) and toxins. Some of the other specific substances produced include – nerve growth factor, glial-derived growth factor, vascular endothelial growth factor, and basic fibroblast growth factor – all of which regenerate tissue and thus facilitate healing.
Patients experience a “Rocky Mountain High” after treatment, similar to the endorphin rush which runners experience after training in the Rocky Mountains. “It’s a nice safe procedure,” Dr Steenblock says assuredly. “It makes the person stronger, just like a hard run which starves the body of oxygen and turns on the same genes…It’s also a way to prepare the brain before surgery since it makes the brain more “tolerant” of low oxygen levels that may occur accidentally during anesthesia.”
Fish oils, taken orally, are also used in brain repair treatment. Cod liver oil is especially important for structural brain problems. The vitamin A and vitamin D, which cod liver oil contains, help push nerve growth hormone production in the brain. Fish oils make the red blood cells more flexible, allowing them to get through the small capillaries that have been damaged from brain injury. Once inside the damaged tissues, the red cells are able to deliver oxygen and this starts the repair process.
Irregularities of the blood vessels’ inner linings are produced by inflammation, infection or atherosclerosis. These roughened, irregular blood vessel linings initiate the formation of tiny blood clots. As the body breaks these blood clots down, the small fragments resulting circulate back to the liver to increase the formation of the clotting protein fibrinogen. The more fibrinogen contained in your blood, the more likely it is for you to have a heart attack or stroke since this material is what causes blood to clot. Levels greater than 320 are associated with higher risks of heart attack and stroke and decreased tissue oxygenation. The more inflammation, infection or roughness of the inner linings of the blood vessels, the more fibrinogen is produced and the greater your risk. This endless cycle must be interfered with to prevent future problems in those with brain injuries. Fish oil lowers the fibrinogen levels and helps prevent strokes and heart attacks in those people with elevated fibrinogens.
Dr Steenblock customizes the substances for intravenous fluids for each type of brain repair needed. Glutathione, lipoic acid, N-acetyl-cysteine, EDTA, vitamin E, taurine, and trimethylglycine are some of the many substances considered. Vitamin/mineral combinations to maximize recovery are also used.
Pulsed magnetic therapy (PMN) over the liver region stimulates cleansing of the organ and release of growth factors, important for brain repair. When used over the bone marrow, PMN helps get important stem cells out to the circulation. Over the bladder muscles, it stimulates the muscles to contract repetitively which helps with bladder incontinence. Over the left frontal lobe of the brain, it has been found to assist those with depression. Pulsed magnetic therapy on the posterior occiput, enhances the frontal lobe blood flow, which may have been damaged in some brain injuries.
External counterpulsation machine treatment increases the diameter of the larger vessels and creates new blood vessels while HBO develops the smaller capillaries. “These two work together. With both, we can further reach all tissues to get them all oxygenated.”
Biofeedback and neuro-biofeedback helps regain the use of injured limbs and re-trains the injured brain. Neuro-biofeedback helps manage seizure disorders, improve attention and processing, and reduces pain and anxiety.
Dr Steenblock has found that most of the risk factors for stroke and heart attack are the same factors that prevent brain injury repair from occurring. Alcohol consumption is at the very top of the list because alcohol will prevent recovery from occurring. “It completely stops brain regeneration. It’s a poison, and damages or destroys the new capillaries that are trying to form as a result of the daily HBO treatments. These new capillaries are vital to the repair process since they bring oxygen and nutrition to the damaged tissues.”
Other factors that may interfere with rehabilitation include depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, obesity, diabetes and stress.
“The #1 positive factor in stroke/brain injury patients recovery is Family. People have to understand that they (patients) need family. Without family, you have nothing. It’s the TLC, the support and the care that matter most. Patients who recover have a reason to do so; either they’re doing it for Mom, their brother…The patient has to have a motivation to do well.”
Dr Steenblock believes that the doctor works with the family; the family works with the doctor. When this happens, there’s a much more successful outcome. At the clinic, all the different staff members check in with him on a daily basis to insure that any obstacles along the way are removed.
Stroke and other brain-injured people experience the gamut of negative emotions, including hostility, depression, despondence and fatigue. These emotions, especially depression, have a very damaging effect on the brain that can be directly responsible for no recovery. This is due to the increased production of cortisol, a stress hormone, which affects nerve tissue and function negatively. Cortisol is also responsible for the corresponding atrophy in muscles. Anti-depressants such as Prozac and Zoloft produce biochemical changes that create more ATP energy in brain tissue and thus, more recovery. Because depression can be so detrimental to brain repair, Dr Steenblock places it as #2 on the list of what prevents healing, following alcohol.
After treating over a thousand patients who have had a stroke, and hundreds of other patients with other brain injuries, Dr Steenblock holds the keys to brain recovery. “There is no magic answer for everyone,” he says, “but there are answers for individuals.” One patient commented, “What he doesn’t know, he quickly and avidly investigates – and what he does know, he gives to the world.”
If you would like to contact the clinic, please call them at 1.800.300.1063 or visit them on their website at www.strokedoctor.com.
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