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Recent research has found a new possible method to treat concussions — Muscle Milk.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids — a common nutrient found in small doses in weight training supplements such as Muscle Milk and protein powder — might be the key to successfully treating concussions, or at least speeding up the healing process, according to a study conducted by Penn Medicine’s Peter LeRoux.

Earlier this month, LeRoux received a Dana Foundation grant worth $250,000 to conduct research on sports concussion treatments.

LeRoux, who has been conducting research for about 20 years, has successfully proven his hypothesis on lab mice. If his study is successful, it would yield the first pharmacological treatment for concussions for humans.

Following in the footsteps of his Penn Med colleague Akiva Cohen’s work with lab mice, LeRoux is trying to fill the void in a “field of research that’s in its infancy.”

“There’s a dearth of treatment for head injuries in general,” LeRoux said, explaining that virtually nothing was known about sports concussions until the 1980s and that many of the working tools and definitions for concussion research weren’t established until a 2008 conference in Zurich, Switzerland.

Penn Med’s Jill Baren, a professor of emergency medicine, agrees that there’s a lack of knowledge on the topic. She said there are currently no pharmacological treatments available for concussions. Current treatment revolves around temporarily restricting certain physical activities. Some doctors also recommend avoiding electronic stimulation and getting more sleep while symptoms persist, or prescribe medications for sleep or mood disorders.

In recent years, concussion prevention in the National Football League has been a controversial topic. In the past, the NFL was accused of hiding research linking concussions in players to dementia and brain disease later in life. In October 2011, the NFL announced a plan to perform broader research on the issue.

This debate has also struck a chord at Penn. In April 2010, then-Wharton junior Owen Thomas committed suicide. His suicide was triggered by emotional changes associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a possible symptom of concussion that can persist after the injury.

This past summer, the Ivy League introduced regulations limiting full-contact practices in an attempt to curb head injuries.

Concussion treatment isn’t standardized and different physicians have different suggestions.

“Unfortunately, [concussion treatments] aren’t always successful,” Baren said. If a patient doesn’t feel better after several days, a doctor will refer him or her to a concussion specialist. There’s a subset of patients who can never fully recover and develop Persistent Post-Concussive Syndrome.

PCS symptoms can include headaches, dizziness and fatigue. It can also lead to personality changes.

“It’s a major health problem,” Baren said, referring to the treatment and diagnostic strategies for concussion. She added that 1.5 million people per year are diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury. “We have a significant need to address this,” she said.

According to Dana Foundation spokesperson Carolyn Asbury, the need for more research, coupled with a sound research design, earned LeRoux the grant.

“There’s been a lot of interest in sports injuries,” she said.

The grant — which is judged by a panel of science consultants, experts and foundation directors — is given to a maximum of five researchers every year. The judges make sure all studies are rigorously designed and promising, Asbury said.

LeRoux does not anticipate any major concerns with his study since people have consumed products containing small doses of BCAAs for years.

In the future, LeRoux plans to apply for a National Institute of Health grant and test his treatment on human subjects.

“This is just a starting point,” he said.

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