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Laurance Johnston, Ph.D.

Elsewhere, I discussed inert-gas therapy, an alternative-healing modality that builds up regeneration potential by electromagnetically stimulating various inert gases, especially xenon. Although that discussion was couched in esoteric-healing principles that fall outside the realm of mainstream science, research is now emerging documenting xenon’s neuroprotective properties.


In brief review, the inert gases (helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon) are a unique elemental family. Helium is the lightest with a molecular weight of four, and xenon is the heaviest with a molecular weight of 131. All are present in the air we breathe, ranging from the relatively abundant argon to scarce xenon (1 part per 11.5 million).

Compared to other elements, inert gases possess additional energy that keeps them in a gaseous state. Although higher molecular-weight elements tend to be liquids or solids, xenon, heavier than many metals, exists as a gas. The energy that keeps it in this gaseous state is that which is putatively tapped into for the regenerative properties discussed in part 1.


Intriguing scientific studies are emerging documenting xenon’s neuroprotective potential. Although these studies do not specifically electromagnetically stimulate xenon, the Earth’s background magnetic field or the fields generated by many laboratory devices may provide some physiologically significant stimulation, especially given the high experimental concentrations of xenon.

Although clinical use has been limited due to cost, xenon has been employed as an anesthetic for over 50 years.  Evidence indicates that xenon slows down neural transmission through blocking NMDA (N-methyl-d-aspartate) receptors on neurons, which regulate conduction-promoting flow of ions in and out of the cell.

Basically, neurons communicate with each other through neurotransmitters, including the amino acid glutamate. Nerve impulses trigger glutamate release from pre-synaptic neurons (synapses are junctions through which neurons signal to each other). The released glutamate binds to NMDA receptors on nearby post-synaptic cells, promulgating the nerve impulse. Because glutamate promotes conduction, it is called an excitatory amino acid.

Xenon inhibits this conduction-promoting process. For example, scientists have shown that high xenon concentrations reduce NMDA-associated conduction by about 60%. Simplistically, view the xenon gas as coating the cell, making it difficult for neurotransmitters to interact with nearby cells.

Although glutamate and its post-synaptic NMDA receptor are normal components of nervous-system conduction, over-activation can mediate damage after SCI and other nervous-system insults (e.g., head injury, stroke, etc). Basically, injured neurons burst, releasing glutamate in toxic concentrations. Through interactions with neighboring NMDA receptors, excessive glutamate initiates a neurotoxic, biochemical cascade damaging nearby neurons and axons.

Using various models of neurological injury, Drs. Nicholas Franks, Mervyn Maze and colleagues (UK and other countries) have shown xenon exerts a neuroprotective effect by preventing excess glutamate from interacting with its NMDA receptor.  

For example, in one study, the investigators injected a damage-triggering excitatory amino acid into rats and measured the amount of injury it created in a brain region called the hypothalamus. Xenon at 75% concentration greatly lessened injury.

In a 2008 study, the researchers studied the effects of xenon and helium (a more prevalent inert gas) in a different model of traumatic brain injury. Specifically, cultured brain slices from mice pups were subjected to a focused mechanical trauma, and then cell injury monitored in the presence and absence of inert gases. The investigators concluded “the inert gases helium and xenon are surprisingly effective as neuroprotectants in an in vitro model of traumatic brain injury… For xenon (at 75% atm), total injury was reduced by a factor of two while secondary injury was reduced by more that a factor of four.”

Although we need to be careful extrapolating experimental results in animals to real-world clinical settings, the researchers believe their findings can eventually lead “to treatments for people suffering from nerve damaging illnesses, such as strokes, and brain and spinal cord injuries.”

In press statements, they note: “We hope xenon could be developed as a novel treatment. It is naturally occurring. And more importantly, its known lack of toxicity makes it an attractive candidate as a neuroprotectant in humans.”

“Ultimately, we hope xenon could become part of standard medical treatment, with paramedics being able to administer it … to stop ongoing nerve cell death.”


Based on years of researching both mainstream and alternative therapies, my gut feeling is that inert gases, especially xenon, will eventually play a huge therapeutic role in minimizing damage after neurological injury. I believe the aforementioned studies are merely the tip of the iceberg on what is to come.

Adapted from article appearing in February 2009 Paraplegia News (For subscriptions, call 602-224-0500) or go to