Friday, October 27, 2006

Fasting May Boost Recovery from Spinal Cord Injury

Fasting may improve recovery from spinal cord injury, the New Scientist reported on Thursday on its website, quoting the result of a new rodent study.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, created lesions in the spinal cords of a group of rats and injured rats, and fed them only on alternate days. After several months, the rats showed half the spinal cord damage compared with their normally fed counterparts.

Inspection of the rodents' spinal cords revealed that the lesions were 50 percent smaller in the fasting animals than the control animals. Over the course of the two months following the initial spinal injury, fasting rats showed slightly better improvement in their ability to complete a ladder-climbing task than their counterparts.

According to the report, other studies have shown that a calorie restricted diet started several months before an injury such as stroke can protect neurons from dying.

Researchers suspect that fasting helps because it dampens the body's immune system, causing fewer overzealous immune cells to reach the site of spinal injury and these cells sometimes block off the site of injury to such an extent that they prevent nerve regeneration.

Calorie restriction appears to make the cells in the spinal cord more sensitive to growth-promoting proteins.

Spinal cord biopsies from the animals in the study showed that the cells of fasting rats had more functional copies of a receptor that responds to a chemical that boosts nerve growth.

The study findings may seem counterintuitive, since people who are sick are often encouraged to eat more to help their body heal.
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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

Body vibration therapy is helping people with spinal cord injuries build bone density and muscle tone.

Dayna Schultz looks as if there is an earthquake going on under her feet.

She stands ramrod-straight, teeth clenched, gripping a gray walker for support as her body shakes like a jackhammer, the walker every so often slipping off the side of the large metal plate she is on.

Yet for all the motion, Schultz, 19, of Morris, Minn., is calm. The vibrations she experiences aren't the result of seismic shifting. They're part of a therapy called whole body vibration.

The Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan is using it to help increase bone density, reduce spasms and build muscle tone in people who have suffered spinal cord injuries.

Madonna and members of the Detroit Lions are proponents, too.

High-frequency vibration for fitness now is being marketed and used as a way to help everyday athletes become more fit as well as for injury recovery programs like the one at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, which uses a machine called the Wave. Some fitness centers across the country are starting to offer whole body vibration machines; a popular version is called the PowerPlate.

The machines used in whole body vibration look somewhat like StairMasters -- with a large metal plate where the steps would be. You stand on the plate and select a frequency and a segment time (usually from 30 to 60 seconds); the plate vibrates, causing your muscles to contract. That's supposed to lead to better circulation, fewer spasms and increased bone density. Users can also do basic moves like calf raises, squats, push-ups or sit-ups to work different body parts.

"For someone who can't make muscle contractions, this does the contractions for them," says Bill Thornton, the head physical trainer at the Rehabilitation Institute's Center for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery.

Thornton, 41, of Dearborn Heights will be monitoring the effects of whole body vibration as part of an institute study.

Schultz is using the machine as a part of her therapy after a car accident left her with no feeling below her torso and a broken neck. She's been a part of the Detroit-based Rehabilitation Institute's Center for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery since August. The crash -- a collision with a train that killed two people -- occurred last year.

She uses a wheelchair, but also is working to stand again.
"I really had to work hard at standing up," Schultz says after trying to stand on the vibration machine for the first time last week. "You feel it a lot more when you're on there."

At the Healing Retreat, a medical spa in Bloomfield Hills, a PowerPlate machine is used to help increase circulation and flexibility in users, says Katie Drinkard, the company's manager.

Some of those who use the machine are recovering from injuries, while others include it as a part of massage treatments.

Drinkard says she's noticed whole body vibration helping to alleviate back and knee pain in some clients and to increase range of motion in a woman who uses it on a shoulder injury. It's also a quicker way to exercise, she says.

Others, like Thea Rosa, of Cool, Calif., who was injured two years ago when the horse she was riding fell on her, find that whole body vibration helps to stimulate body parts that have lost sensation. She's been at the institute since June. Rosa started using the Wave in August, when the machine arrived, and now is on it at least three times a week.

"I can feel the tingling in my heels now," says Rosa, 39, after a session on the machine that included push-ups off the plate. "It's kind of a nice feeling when you're connected again to your body. You can feel the muscles work."

The benefits of whole body vibration are mostly short-term at this point. Rosa, who struggles with severe tightening of the muscles in her legs, says using the machine helps to fatigue her muscles and reduce spasms. But that usually only lasts about an hour.

More research is needed on the long-term effects of whole body vibration, says Larry Leigh, director of research and training at WAVExercise, the Windsor-based company that sells a version of the vibration machine.

And while whole body vibration might be useful as a part of fitness program, it's not enough on its own.

"You're not going to find any Arnold Schwarzeneggers from training on the Wave," Leigh says. "It's not meant to be a total training method, but as an adjunct" it can be helpful.

Still, Rosa credits whole body vibration for much of her progress in the past few months.

"My hamstrings are getting stronger; my glutes are getting stronger," she says.

She started riding horses again about four months after her accident. Now she wants to walk again.

"With this machine, I can feel the muscles contract and I can stand longer," says Rosa. "It gives you a boost. It's not impossible on my own, but it's a lot harder."

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Experimental Drug Lets Man Walk Again

The nights were the worst for John Bannon, gripped by fear of what his spinal cord injury might mean.

"Every night lying in bed you'd think, 'God, am I ever going to be able to do any of this stuff?' " Bannon said.

High on his list was being able to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, a tall order for someone told he'd never walk again.

But on May 27, the 50-year-old Londoner did just that. And he had the first dance with his daughter at the reception.

"When it was done, I thought, 'Wow, I owe a lot.' It was unbelievable."

He credits the "awesome" care he's received at Parkwood Hospital in London, and an experimental drug.

Bannon clearly remembers the pool party following his daughter's baseball tournament in June 1992.

He was standing at the edge of the pool when somebody gave him a nudge. He crashed to the bottom of the pool, hitting the back of his head on the bottom. In an instant, he was a quadriplegic.

"The only thing I could move at that time was my mouth. As I was coming up, everything just went dead," he said.

People jumped in to help and Bannon said he's grateful the assistant coach, a former ambulance driver, kept people from hauling him out of the water and possibly worsening his injury before paramedics arrived.

He was conscious for the ambulance ride to hospital, but little else. With his lungs collapsed, his family was told he might not survive the night.

Transferred to University Hospital in London, he couldn't breathe on his own. Staff there told him he wouldn't walk again, he said.

His first glimmer of hope came when a doctor from Parkwood came to see him and tested his response with pinpricks. When she tested his toes, he could feel the sensation.

His injury had damaged his spinal cord, but some messages from his brain to his nerves were still getting through.

"She looked at my brother who was there and told him to get me a pair of top running shoes because she was going to get me up on my feet again. It made my day," Bannon said.

Moved to Parkwood, Bannon faced months of physical therapy, learning even to breathe on his own again.
Then he was able to wiggle his toes. Slowly, he was able to do more and more.

"Eventually, they got me on my feet and I could walk a little bit," he said.

He went home.

Though he had some use of his legs, he still suffered spasms and uncontrollable shaking that would knock him down.

When doctors at Parkwood called and said he qualified for an experimental drug program that might help, Bannon welcomed the opportunity.

"I'll try anything," he said.

The drug, Fampridine, was designed to allow signals from the brain to cross injured areas in the spinal cord. Bannon said the drug reduces the muscle spasms, giving him more confidence to stand and walk. It also increases his stamina.

"It is not a cure, but it repairs some of the damaged area in my spinal cord temporarily, so the messages get down to where they need to go," he said.

Bannon now does peer counselling at Parkwood and helps with fundraising for the hospital. He wants to see the lives of other patients improve and is excited by the opening of the new Aging, Rehabilitation and Geriatric Care Research Centre.

"I am pretty well set. I feel very fortunate the way I am. I can stand, I can walk, I can drive," he said.

"There are people out there who could really use those things."

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