Overcoming Paralysis?

My son recently became a quadriplegic. Is there anything that can be done to help the nerves in the spinal cord?

– August 16, 2004

People who are quadriplegic are paralyzed in both legs and both arms often due to an injury high in the spinal cord, usually in the cervical vertebra in the neck. The spinal cord carries nerve impulses to and from the brain and the rest of the body. Although nerve cells in the spinal cord do not regenerate when damaged, new research suggests that there may be ways around this problem. In May 2004 investigators at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis announced a breakthrough that enabled rats with spinal cord injuries to regain 70 percent of their normal walking function. The researchers transplanted peripheral nerve cells, which do regenerate, in order to construct a connection across the damaged areas of the animals’ spinal cords. This fostered the growth of axons, (nerve fibers) enabling the rats to regain lost function. Eventually, this success may pave the way to new approaches in treating human spinal cord injuries. Results of the research were published in the June 2004 issue of Nature Medicine.

In another encouraging development, researchers in St. Louis showed that a combination of thought and electrodes (placed on the surface of the brain) enabled patients to control a video game without moving their limbs. Research results, published in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of Neural Engineering, could lead to development of devices that would enable paralyzed people to use computers by harnessing their thoughts.

The actor Christopher Reeve, paralyzed in 1995 after a fall from a horse, has regained a small amount of movement and sensation via aggressive physical therapy and a determination to eventually walk away from his wheelchair. Coupled with advances in research, these achievements suggest that it soon may be possible for quadriplegics to regain lost function. You can monitor research developments at www.campaignforcure.org, the Web site of the International Campaign for Cures of Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis.

In the meantime, you might give your son an extract of Lion’s Mane mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus), a medicinal mushroom believed to stimulate nerve growth. It is nontoxic. You can get Lion’s Mane in extract form from Fungi Perfecti (www.fungi.com). Follow the dosing directions on the product.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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