A study released today in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that giving moms an infusion of magnesium sulfate --- better known as Epsom salt --- just before they go into premature labor might cut their child's risk for developing cerebral palsy by about a half.
The study looked at more than 2,200 pregnant women who were at high risk for premature birth. Half of the women were randomly assigned to receive an infusion of Epsom salt if they went into early labor, while the other half received a placebo infusion.
Researchers found that moderate or severe cerebral palsy occurred only half as often in the babies whose mothers received Epsom salt compared to those babies who were in the placebo group.
Moreover, researchers found that the rates of death between the two groups did not differ, suggesting that such infusions are a safe treatment option. ~ ABC News, 27 Aug 2008
The study's conclusion said that --- "Fetal exposure to magnesium sulfate before anticipated early preterm delivery did not reduce the combined risk of moderate or severe cerebral palsy or death, although the rate of cerebral palsy was reduced among survivors." (bold emphasis mine)
For those interested, the full text of the study can be read here.
While more studies are needed to confirm the validity of the study, the implied neuroprotective effect of magnesium sulfate is good news. Cerebral palsy in the Philippines has an incidence estimated to be 3.5 per 1,000 live births, and in our current population of more than 80 million, that would mean that nearly 300,000 individuals are affected. According to Wikipedia, in the US, approximately 10,000 infants and babies are diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year, and 1,200-1,500 are diagnosed at preschool age.
But unlike in the US, the Philippine Cerebral Palsy, Inc. organization expresses some regret in its website ---
"In our society, even those who can go to regular school are often marked with the stigma of being disabled and thus "not normal." They are shunned by society and not given equal opportunities in jobs, denied public access and are even sometimes isolated in society.
In the Philippines, there are more patients with cerebral palsy than those with polio, spinal lesions and all other movement disorders combined. Despite this, there is no government program that addresses this condition, both in treatment and prevention."