WAUWATOSA, Wis. — An anesthesiologist may have discovered a way to save a patient's life when the heart is about to stop and nothing else is working: vitamin B12.
Dr. Julie Freed says the discovery happened back in 2015 during open heart surgery. A patient's blood pressure was plummeting. Nothing was working to bring the person back, not even adrenaline.
"(We were) running out of options, so my colleagues started giving vitamin B12 and the blood pressure magically started going up," she said.
Freed had no idea the response would save the patient's life. She asked herself, "huh... how is this possibly happening?"
Freed has been searching for that answer ever since in a laboratory at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
"It was almost hard to believe that a simple vitamin could have this effect," the doctor said.
She showed WTMJ in the lab how it works on tiny human blood vessels.
"When tissue isn't getting enough oxygen, it could be releasing this compound — hydrogen sulfide — and that's what the vitamin B12 binds to and says, 'nope,' and kind of takes it out of the circulation," she said.
A well-known side effect of B12 is that it can increase blood pressure, which is a good thing in this case.
Freed also found B12 can help in patients who have serious bacterial infections, like sepsis.
Freed was able to do this study through grants. One of the biggest was $25,000 from the Annual Steve Cullen Healthy Heart Club Run/Walk, which is happening next month.
The Cullen Run has raised nearly $500,000 for lifesaving heart research, like this study at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Freed says a vitamin B12 is now being used in a clinical trial by a fellow doctor to treat his sepsis patients.