A Project of the Empathic Therapy Center is an online library and newspaper project of the 501c3 nonprofit Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education & Living, founded by Peter R. Breggin, MD and Ginger Breggin, working toward replacing the biological theories, diagnoses and treatments of "modern" psychiatry with better therapeutic and educational approaches

Peter R. Breggin, MD Websites


Brain Damage, Toxic Agents,  Traumatic Brain Injury, Closed Head Injury and other Brain Damaging Events


We continue to learn about various events and  agents, from poisons, radiations, environmental toxic exposures, and to some medicines, that can cause brain damage.  See the various psychiatric medication class pages on this website to see specific issues with the prescribed psychiatric drug types including antidepressants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, sleep aids, stimulants and more.  Here below is a growing collection of documentation of brain damage from other sources.


"Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome and Functional and Structural Brain Impairments in Adolescence" by Po Lai Yau, et al, Pediatrics, October 2012

"We document lower cognitive performance and reductions in brain structural integrity among adolescents with MetS, [Metabolic Syndrome] thus suggesting that even relatively short-term impairments in metabolism, in the absence of clinically manifest vascular disease, may give rise to brain complications. In view of these alarming results, it is plausible that obesity-associated metabolic disease, short of type 2 diabetes mellitus, may be mechanistically linked to lower the academic and professional potential of adolescents."


"Child Physical Abuse and Adult Mental Health: A National Study," Luisa Sugaya, etal, Journal of Traumatic Stress, August 2012

Child physical abuse was associated with significantly increased adjusted odds ratios (AORs) of a broad range ofDSM-IV psychiatric disorders (AOR = 1.16–2.28), especially attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder. A dose-response relationship was observed between frequency of abuse and several adult psychiatric disorder groups; higher frequencies of assault were significantly associated with increasing adjusted odds. The long-lasting deleterious effects of child physical abuse underscore the urgency of developing public health policies aimed at early recognition and prevention.


"Variation in neural development as a result of exposure to institutionalization early in childhood" Margaret A. Sheridan, PNAS, June 2012
Children with histories of institutional rearing had significantly smaller cortical gray matter volume than never-institutionalized children. Cortical white matter was no different for children placed in foster care than never-institutionalized children but was significantly smaller for children not randomized to foster care.


"Human amygdala development in the absence of species-expected caregiving" Nim Tottenham, Developmental Psychobiology, Sept. 2012
Abstract: "In altricial species, like the human, caregiver presence is necessary for typical emotional development. Children who have been raised in institutional care early in life experience caregiver deprivation and are at significantly elevated risk for emotional difficulties. The current manuscript examines the non-human and human literatures on amygdala development following caregiver deprivation and presents an argument that in the absence of the species-expected caregiver presence, human amygdala development exhibits rapid development and perhaps premature engagement that results in some of the emotional phenotypes observed following early institutional care."


"Whole Brain Radiation-Induced Impairments in Learning and Memory Are Time-Sensitive and Reversible by Systemic Hypoxia", Junie P. Warrington et al, PLoS, Jan. 18, 2012. "cognitive deficits occur in a relatively large percentage of brain tumor survivors, becoming evident months to years after treatment"


"Cognitive Complications of Elective Surgery and Anesthesia" Ronald Devere, Practical Neurology, August, 2012

"Postoperative cognitive impairment was described in 1887 by George Savage, who said that this event can contribute to “mental insanity.”1 The most detailed studies to help address this disorder have only been in the last 15 years.2,3 Post operative cognitive decline (POCD) has been recognized to occur in two patterns:

  • Acute cognitive dysfunction (acute early post operative delirium)
  • Chronic and more persistent POCD.

Acute post-operative delirium is characterized by inattention, disorganized thinking, and altered level of consciousness. Behavior may be hyperactive or hypoactive, the latter being more common. This post operative delirium is associated with increased mortality, greater dependency needs and cost, and prolonged hospitalization.4,5 Increased risk for acute post-op delirium are: older age, male gender, preoperative depression, anxiety, tobacco use, alcohol and drug abuse, length of surgery, pain management, sleep deprivation and metabolic derangement.1 Marcantonio, et al. developed a scoring system to predict onset of delirium before surgery is done, incorporating numerous risk factors.6 They report a nine percent post-op delirium in elective non-cardiac, non-orthopedic surgery in the first five days. After orthopedic surgery, they report a 41 percent incidence of post op delirium.

The good news in general is that these acute cognitive changes, with or without delirium, are usually short lived, with preoperative cognitive function returning within days to weeks.

Chronic POCD is more prolonged, looks like a neurodegenerative disorder, and is best diagnosed by Neuropsychological testing. The testing frequently shows short- and long-term memory impairment, impaired executive function, impaired fine motor coordination, and depression. Chronic POCD also correlated with longer hospitalization and greater co-morbidities.7 A large multicenter study on POCD in patients over 60 years reported memory loss in 26 percent of cases after one week, 10 percent after three months, five percent at six months, and one percent at 12 months." Read more here.


"Short and Long-Term Cognitive Consequences of Acute Non-Neurological Hospitalization" Ronald Devere, Practical Neurology, Jan/Feb 2012


"Cognitive and Behavioral Outcomes After Early Exposure to Anesthesia and Surgery" Randall P Flick, et al, Pediatrics 2011; 1053-1061.

The authors conclude in this study that "Repeated exposure to anesthesia and surgery before the age of 2 was a significant independent risk factor for the later development of LDs [learning disorders] but not the need for educational interventions related to emotion/behavior. We cannot exclude the possibility that multiple exposures to anesthesia/surgery at an early age may adversely affect human neurodevelopment with lasting consequence."


"Anesthesia: Could Early Use Affect the Brain Later?" By Eben Harrell Tuesday, Nov. 03, 2009
general anesthetics may potentially contribute to cognitive impairment in vulnerable patients such as the very young and very old.


"The Pediatrician and Anesthesia Neurotoxicity" Robert K. Williams, MD, Pediatrics, 2011; 128;e1268


"Immune cells gobble up healthy but idle brain cells" by Andy Coghlan, New Scientist June 1, 2012

USE it or lose it: a class of immune cell demolishes idle circuits and connections in the brain, even a healthy one. Understanding more about the process could help prevent the onset of degenerative brain diseases. Until now, microglia have been dismissed as simple immune cells that do little more than protect brain cells from damage and tidy up in the aftermath of disease. "The idea they can clean up brain debris has been well established in studies of brain disease," says Beth Stevens of Boston Children's Hospital. "But now, even without damage, we've found them to respond to subtle changes in synaptic function." Read more here.


"Study links Parkinson's disease to industrial solvent" By Neil Bowdler, Health reporter, BBC News.  An international study has linked an industrial solvent to Parkinson's disease. Researchers found a six-fold increase in the risk of developing Parkinson's in individuals exposed in the workplace to trichloroethylene (TCE). Read more here.


"Hazards: Solvent Linked to Higher Parkinson’s Risk" New York Times--Read article here.


Solvent Exposures and Parkinson Disease Risk in Twins, S. Goldman, et al; Ann Neurol 2011  "Exposure to specific solvents may increase risk of Parkinson Disease."


Animal study shows brain damage occurs from chronic exposure to air pollution ~ Psychiatric News, 11.4.11.  "...The researchers found that the mice that had been exposed to the particulate pollutants demonstrated more depressive-like symptoms and learning and memory probolems than the control mice. And the hippocampi of the group that had been exposed to the pollutants showed both proinflammatory cytokines and neuronal damage compared with the hippocampi from the control group." Read more here.


"Traumatic Brain Injury" [TBI], Sharon M. Valente, PhD and Diane Fisher, CNS; Journal for Nurse Practitioners, Vol 7, Issue 10 November/December 2011.   Good basic journal article on TBI and brain damage issue.


Corticostriatal-Limbic Gray Matter Morphology in Adolescents With Self-reported Exposure to Childhood Maltreatment, Erin E. Edmistron, BA et al, Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011.


"The Grim Neurology of Teenage Drinking"  by Katy Butler July 4, 2006 The New York Times  " Mounting research suggests that alcohol causes more damage to the developing brains of teenagers than was previously thought, injuring them significantly more than it does adult brains. The findings, though preliminary, have demolished the assumption that people can drink heavily for years before causing themselves significant neurological injury. And the research even suggests that early heavy drinking may undermine the precise neurological capacities needed to protect oneself from alcoholism....The most alarming evidence of physical damage comes from federally financed laboratory experiments on the brains of adolescent rats subjected to binge doses of alcohol. These studies found significant cellular damage to the forebrain and the hippocampus."

Effects of Alcohol Upon the Brain 

Another brain-related side effect caused by excessive drinking is that high doses of alcohol, while not killing your brain cells, inhibits the growth of new brain cells. However, recent research has shown, at least with rats, that once the alcohol was no longer given to the rats, new brain cell production went into overdrive to try to compensate for the previously inhibited brain cell production. Now, if you go for long enough without giving your brain a chance to recover, drinking excessively on a regular basis, it is thought there may still be lasting effects due to this inhibited new brain cell growth over extended periods, but whether this is actually the case or not, isn’t yet known.

There are also a variety of other known neurological problems that are associated with intemperate alcohol consumptions over long periods of time and some that even show up in a short amount of time in children and teens who abuse alcohol, but this article is already too long.


The Fragile Teenage Brain: An in-depth look at concussions in high school football, by Jonah Lehrer on January 10, 2012


"A New Target in Fighting Brain Disease: Metals" Wall Street Journal, Jan.31, 2012
...Iron and copper appear to accumulate beyond normal levels in the brains of people with these diseases, and a new, Australian study published Sunday shows reducing excess iron in the brain can alleviate Alzheimer's-like symptoms—at least in mice.

A genetic mutation related to regulating iron is linked to ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. Zinc, on the other hand, appears to impair memory if its levels get too low or if it gets into a brain region where it doesn't belong, as it can with traumatic brain injury.

Research into the complicated, invisible roles these metals play in brain diseases has lagged behind study of the more-visible proteins that are damaged or clump together in the brains of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's sufferers. But better understanding metals' role in the brain could help shed light on a range of medical conditions and might offer a new route for developing treatments, scientists say....


New View of Depression: An Ailment of the Entire Body, by Shirley Wang, Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2012
"accelerated aging," is beginning to reshape the field's understanding of stress and depression not merely as psychological conditions but as body-wide illnesses in which mood may be just the most obvious symptom.



In a study, young adults in Sweden who were born before 32 weeks of gestation had significantly higher rates of schizophrenia or delusional disorders, depression and bipolar illness.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

"TDP-43 Proteinopathy and Motor Neuron Disease in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy" Ann C. McKee, et al. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. September 2010


"Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Athletes: Progressive Tauopathy following Repetitive Head Injury," Ann C. McKee, et al. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. July 2009