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CHOP Researchers Find Branched Chain Amino Acid Supplementation May Aid in Concussion Recovery


PHILADELPHIAMarch 19, 2024 /7Newswire — In the first clinical trial of a targeted pharmacologic therapeutic for mild traumatic brain injury in pediatric patients, scientists from the Minds Matter Concussion Frontier Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have found preliminary evidence that adolescents and young adults with concussion who take a specific formulation of branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements after injury experience faster symptom reduction and return to physical activity. The findings were published online by the Journal of Neurotrauma.

More than 2 million concussions occur in the youth and adolescent population in the United States each year. The mainstay of treatment remains symptom management with temporary modification of cognitive and physical activity and over the counter medication. Although active rehabilitation strategies have shown promise for improving recovery time, including aerobic, vestibular, and vision interventions, these can be time and labor intensive. To date, no targeted pharmacologic intervention to improve clinical outcomes in concussion has been evaluated in humans.

Animal model studies of mild to moderate traumatic brain injury, which have been led by the study’s senior author, Akiva S. Cohen, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at CHOP and a research professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, have shown that supplementation with a specific formulation of three BCAAs – leucine, isoleucine and valine – improve neurocognitive function. However, prior to this study, no human studies involving adolescents and young adults have assessed the potential benefits of this formulation of BCAAs as a specific treatment to aid in concussion recovery.

“The goal of this pilot study was to determine, among several different doses, whether our specific formulation of BCAAs could accelerate recovery – faster reduction in symptoms and return to baseline physical activity,” Cohen said. “Based on our work in animal models, we expected that our specific formulation of BCAA supplementation would result in a more rapid resolution in symptom burden and improved physical activity levels which are key measures of recovery from a concussion.”

The scientists conducted a pilot, double-blind, randomized controlled trial of participants between the ages of 12-30 years who presented with concussion to outpatient clinics, urgent care and emergency departments across the CHOP Network between June of 2014 and December of 2020. Individual participants were divided into five groups consisting of a placebo arm and different treatment arms of 15 g, 30 g, 45 g and 54 g doses of a specific formulation of BCAAs. The participants were followed for a period of 21 days after enrollment. Participants were assessed with daily computerized neurocognitive tests, reported symptom score, physical and cognitive activity, treatment compliance and adverse events. A total of 38 participants had analyzable data after study completion.

The study found that there was a significant reduction in and faster resolution of the total symptom score in a dose-dependent fashion with the specific formulation of BCAA supplementation, with a significant decrease in total symptoms across the study; for every 500 g of the treatment consumed, the total symptom score, on a scale of 0-54 (with 0 representing no symptoms), dropped 4 points. Similar significant improvements were seen in a faster return to physical activity, with an increase of 0.5 on a 0-5 scale of physical activity for each 500 g of the defined BCAA supplement consumed. The treatment was very well tolerated; no serious adverse events were reported in the study, and there were no differences in mild adverse events between the placebo and treatment groups.

“Our results demonstrate that our specific formulation of BCAA supplementation is a highly promising treatment that addresses the underlying mechanism driving concussion symptoms in order to accelerate recovery and improve outcomes,” said the study’s first author Daniel Corwin, MD, MSCE, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Department Lead of the Minds Matter Concussion Frontier Program at CHOP. “While a larger study is needed to confirm the formulation’s efficacy before routine use of BCAA supplementation should be recommended, we are extremely encouraged by these preliminary findings, the first trial to demonstrate that a targeted pharmacologic using a specific formulation of BCAAs may be useful as a treatment for youth and young adult concussion.”

This study was supported by The Dana Foundation, with additional support provided by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Frontier Program, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health award number K23NS128275-01, Veterans Affairs Clinical Science and Research Department Merit Award #I01 CX002022, Oregon Aging and Disability Resource Connection, National Institutes of Health grant P30 AG066518, and VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Career Development Award #1K2 RX002947.

Corwin et al, “Head Injury Treatment with HEalthy and Advanced Dietary Supplements (HIT HEADS): A pilot randomized controlled trial of the tolerability, safety, and efficacy of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) in the treatment of concussion in adolescents and young adults.” J Neurotrama. Online March 12, 2024. DOI: 10.1089/neu.2023.0433.

About Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: 
A non-profit, charitable organization, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation’s first pediatric hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals, and pioneering major research initiatives, the hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country. The institution has a well-established history of providing advanced pediatric care close to home through its CHOP Care Network, which includes more than 50 primary care practices, specialty care and surgical centers, urgent care centers, and community hospital alliances throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as the Middleman Family Pavilion and its dedicated pediatric emergency department in King of Prussia. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents. For more information, visit https://www.chop.edu.

Contact: Ben Leach
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
(609) 634-7906

SOURCE Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia