CHICAGO -- The hunt for brain injury treatments has suffered a big disappointment in a major study that found zero benefits from a supplement that the U.S. military had hoped would help wounded troops.
The supplement is marketed as a memory booster online and in over-the-counter powders and drinks. It is also widely used by doctors in dozens of countries to treat traumatic brain injuries and strokes, although evidence on whether it works has been mixed. U.S. scientists had high hopes that in large doses it would help speed recovery in patients with brain injuries from car crashes, falls, sports accidents and other causes. But in the most rigorous test yet, citicoline worked no better than dummy treatments at reducing forgetfulness, attention problems, difficulty concentrating and other symptoms.
"We very much were disappointed," said Dr. Ross Zafonte, the lead author and a traumatic brain injury expert at Harvard Medical School. "We took a therapy that is utilized worldwide and we found that at least its present use should be called into question."
The study involved 1,213 patients aged 18 and older hospitalized at eight U.S. trauma centers. They had mild to severe traumatic brain injuries -- blows to the head resulting in symptoms ranging from dizziness to loss of consciousness and with complications including brain bleeding or other damage. Half of the patients received citicoline -- also known as CDP choline -- within 24 hours of being injured. The dose of 2,000 milligrams was much higher than in over-the-counter products and was given daily for three months. The rest got a dummy treatment, and all were followed for six months.
Most patients improved on measures of memory, learning and other mental functions, but those on the supplement fared no better than those given dummy treatment. That suggests their improvement was due to the normal healing process. A total of 73 patients died during the study, about equal numbers in both groups.
Zafonte noted that citicoline patients with the mildest injuries did slightly worse than those who'd been given dummy treatments, reinforcing the conclusion that the supplement should not be used for traumatic brain injuries.
The study appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.