Feeling a little bruised after the excesses of New Year and the festive period? In these cold, dark days we may find a treatment for more serious neurotrauma instructive. Since the 1940s, many studies have shown the benefits of therapeutic hypothermia, or cooling the brain.
In terms of energy supply, the brain exists in a precarious balance even in normal function. Fuel reserves are limited as brain cells are tightly packed to keep wiring lengths to a minimum. Cooling the brain allows the overstretched metabolism to concentrate on repair.
And damaged cortical tissue triggers a chain reaction which can make matters worse, a process also inhibited by cooling.
Of course the cooling can mask signs of injury, and accidental immersion in freezing water can cause a state close to suspended animation from which it is not always possible to recover. In ghoulish trauma medicine terminology, you’re not dead till you’re warm and dead. Cheery thoughts as we return to our everyday routines.
Days are already getting longer, albeit slowly, and soon it’ll be time to emerge from our mental burrows.
Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at King’s College London
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