Many within the alternative health community believe anesthetics cause brain damage. Evidence for this claim has included innumerable animal studies demonstrating a wide range of side effects from every class of anesthetics.
Clinical observations of patients and in certain instances a physician directly perceiving the neurological damage within themselves following anesthesia have also supported this theory. Unfortunately, while a definite hypothesis is easy to establish with animals, it is difficult to test in humans.
Until recently strong evidence has been lacking either way that anesthetics harm human beings. Thus, safer alternatives such as acupuncture, non-toxic anesthetics and abstaining from the application of anesthesia remain under examination. Recent work by the Mayo Clinic however contradicts the prevailing mindset. Onset of ADHD, an indicator of neurological damage, was strongly correlated to children who had been repeatedly anesthetized.
Aware of the evidence suggesting a connection, Mayo Clinic researchers devised a method to test for a possible link between the two. Comparing the records of a group of children exposed to 2 or more anesthetics before the age of 3 versus a group with 0 exposure, it was found that the former group had over twice the incidence of ADHD as the latter.
Children with no exposure to anesthesia and surgery had a 7.3 percent incidence of ADHD. Equally, for children with only a single surgery and exposure to anesthesia before the age of 3 the rate was nearly the same as no exposure. However for children with two or more exposures to anesthesia and surgery, the rate of ADHD was 17.9 percent. This result remained even after researchers adjusted for other factors, including gestational age, sex, birth weight and comorbid health conditions.
Statistically, this data showed a very large difference between each group and a clear correlation between anesthesia and cognitive impairment. To quote study pediatric anesthesiologist and study investigator Dr. Warner: “We were skeptical that the findings in animals would correlate with kids, but it appears that it does.”
These results argue for further study, and may represent the beginning of mainstream awareness coming to the subject. While Dr Warner was hesitant to claim this study proved a connection, he signaled further research was on the horizon. “The findings certainly do suggest that further investigation into this area is warranted, and investigators at Mayo Clinic and elsewhere are actively pursuing these studies.”
On a more positive note, it was observed that the cognitive decline was only noted in children who had multiple anesthetized surgeries before the age of 3. No ill effects were traced to a single instance. This both implies the existence of a regenerative system within the neurology capable of repairing that damage but also its potential failure if overtaxed by multiple incidents too close to each other. If this failure stems from a second trauma occurring and the mechanism had finished recovering from the first, then anesthetized surgeries apart from each other can be a powerful neural protective strategy.
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