Natural brain food: Rhubarb protects against severe damage caused by traumatic brain injury

Roll out all your recipes for rhubarb, because the herb is a powerful brain food packed with the protective compound rhein. A Chinese study reported that eating rhubarb can shield your brain against the side effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that are growing more common these days.

Dubbed the “silent epidemic,” TBI is caused by physical impacts to the head during accidents. They are followed by secondary brain injuries that trigger various reactions such as inflammation and oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress is perhaps the biggest instigator of brain malfunctions. It appears shortly after the brain gets injured and aggravates the other reactions.

The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress. It has a lot of fatty acids that require a plentiful supply of oxygen, making it a prime target for reactive oxygen species (ROS) that cause oxidation in lipids.

The organ is protected by antioxidant enzymes like catalase (CAT), glutathione (GSH), and superoxide dismutase (SOD). Another external source of protection is traditional Chinese medicine, which prescribes various herbal medicines – such as rhubarb – that can prevent oxidative stress. (Related: Rhubarb shows promise for treating chronic liver disease.)

Rhubarb possesses neuroprotective effects against traumatic brain injury

Recent studies have covered the neuroprotective properties of rhubarb against traumatic brain injury. The medicinal plant prevents the oxidation of lipids in the brains of rats and slows down the self-destruction of cells.

Rhubarb has shown satisfactory efficiency in the treatment of TBI. Its component rhein (also known as cassic acid) is a powerful antioxidant.

The Central South University (CSU) research team sought to determine the specific means by which rhubarb can treat TBI. They analyzed the antioxidant effects of rhein in order to find out if it could be used as the active ingredient in a TBI treatment medicine.

The researchers used a rat model with six groups of animals. Five groups were given controlled cortical impact (CCI) surgery to simulated traumatic brain injuries while the sixth underwent sham treatment that caused no brain injury.

Three groups of CCI mice received different amounts – three, six, and 12 grams per kilogram (g/kg) of rhubarb extract. A fourth group received 12 mg/kg of rhein compound. At the end of the trial, all mice were sacrificed so that the brain and blood samples could be taken.

The researchers scanned the brain tissue of mice to see if rhein had been absorbed into those tissues. They then analyzed the blood and tissue samples to measure the levels of antioxidant enzymes and oxidation-causing substances.

Rhein compound in rhubarb shows antioxidant properties that protect the brain

Based on the results of their experiment, the CSU team confirmed that rhein was present in the brain tissue of CCI rats that were given rhubarb. rhein’s presence is proof that rhubarb can affect the brain and its traumatic injuries.

Both rhubarb and rhein treatments improved the levels of the antioxidant enzymes SOD, CAT, and GSH. These chemicals are the brain’s natural means of preventing oxidative stress from taking place.

Furthermore, rhubarb improved the GSH/GSSG ration. It ensured that there is enough glutathione antioxidant to handle the oxidation-causing glutathione disulfide.

As rhein was the bioactive chemical that was absorbed by the brain, the researchers reasoned that rhein enabled the antioxidant activities. The compound could possibly join rhubarb as a neuroprotective drug that treats TBI.

The CSU researchers summed up their study by stating that rhubarb and rhein reduced the formation of destructive free radicals that caused oxidative stress in the brains of rats. They recommended future studies to determine the signal pathway taken by rhein and rhubarb when they provide antioxidation activity for the brain.

Read about more advances in treating brain diseases and injuries at

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