Methylene blue has a long history of use in conventional medicine as a way to lower excess haemoglobin, treat urinary tract infections and as a remedy for cyanide poisoning. However, recent research is demonstrating that Methylene Blue offers many more potential health benefits, such as improvements in mitochondrial and cognitive health.
This article will delve into the scientific literature to uncover the potential of methylene blue to safely treat diseases and improve overall health.
What is Methylene Blue?
Appearance and Structure
Methylene blue, also known as methylthioninium chloride, is a compound made up of very dark green-blue crystals or powder, which typically has a bronze lustre to it.
Methylene blue dissolves readily in water or alcohol.
History of Use
In the late 19th Century, Methylene blue saw its first use in the treatment of malaria. At this time, researchers believed that drugs and dyes both worked by selectively staining pathogens and damaging them somehow (R).
Methylene blue was used as an antimalarial during the Second World War, but it soon fell out of favour as soldiers complained about it turning their urine blue (R).
It was this urine-colouring effect that gave rise to Methylene blue being used as a way to check whether psychiatric patients were adhering to their pharmaceutical regimen. Clinical effects were soon noticed in those psychiatric patients taking methylene blue, sparking interest in the drug’s antidepressant and other psychotropics (R).
Contemporary research has sparked a revival of interest in the use of Methylene blue as an antimalarial (R).
In 1933, researchers found that Methylene blue was an effective antidote to carbon monoxide poisoning and cyanide poisoning (R).
Methylene Blue can be found on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines; widely regarded as a list of the world’s safest and most effective medicines (R).
In addition to it’s clinical uses, Methylene blue is also used as a bacteriologic stain, an indicator dye, and for surgical and medical marking.
Clinical Potential of Methylene Blue
METHYLENE BLUE PREVENTS AND REVERSES AGING
A 2017 study showed Methylene Blue to be a potent antioxidant for connective tissue cells, like skin, regardless of the patient type e.g. healthy or unhealthy (R).
Methylene blue generated connective tissue and slowed cellular death at a greater rate than other selective mitochondrial antioxidants (R).
Interestingly, Methylene blue was found to alter the expression of genes coding for proteins in the skin. For example, the production of collagen and elastin, both important proteins in determining skin health, was increased (R).
This study determined that dosage of 0.5 μM Methylene Blue “significantly increased cell viability in comparison to the control”. Importantly, Tissues treated with 5.0 μM and 10.0 μM actually showed a loss in cell viability (R).
It seems that low concentrations of Methylene blue (less than 2.5 μM) are the safest and most efficacious for long-term use. Until more research is done, we think that 0.5 μM is a solid starting point for future research.
METHYLENE BLUE IS AN ANTI-DEPRESSANT
Monoamine oxidase enzymes break down certain neurotransmitters like noradrenaline and serotonin. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are used to reduce the activity of these enzymes in an attempt to fix a disrupted balance of neurotransmitters seem in those with depression.
Methylene Blue is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) (R).
At low-medium doses, Methylene blue reduces the activity of MAO-A more than MAO-B, but the degree of inhibition levels out at higher doses (R).
Caution must be used at doses greater than 5mg/kg as Methylene blue may cause a fatal build-up of serotonin – a particular risk when combined with SSRI medications (R).
METHYLENE BLUE TREATS MALARIA
Methylene blue was first identified as a possible treatment for malaria by Paul Ehrlich in 1891. It quickly became one of the first synthetic antimalarial drugs ever used (R).
Methylene blue fell out of favour as an antimalarial due to the undesirable effect of turning patients’ urine blue or green and having a similar effect on the whites of the eye.
However, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in its use as an anti-malarial, with a number of clinical trials in progress (R).
In fact, a 2014 study found that Intravenous methylene blue was just as effective as the standard malaria treatment method, intravenous artesunate. This study found that 20 mg per kg was the minimum effective daily dose (R).
METHYLENE BLUE REDUCES CANCER GROWTH
Methylene Blue is being explored for its role in the photodynamic treatment of cancer (R).
A very recent study found that Methylene blue when used as part of photodynamic therapy (more on this below), causes “massive cell death of tumor cells”. Furthermore, malignant cells were far more susceptible to the therapy compared to healthy cells (R).
METHYLENE BLUE TREATS DISEASES OF THE BRAIN (ALZHEIMER’S, HUNTINGTON’S, PARKINSON’S)
Recent research has demonstrated that Methylene blue has the potential to reduce the formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles seen in Alzheimer’s disease (R).
Studies have also demonstrated that by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, Methylene blue can increase levels of acetylcholine. treat Alzheimer’s
Methylene blue also has the ability to repair mitochondrial function and cellular metabolism – both of which are often damaged in Alzheimer’s (R).
Methylene blue’s neuroprotective effects are mediated by autophagy (an intracellular degradation system) through activation of AMPK signalling. This makes it a potentially useful treatment for conditions such as Huntington’s (R).
METHYLENE BLUE IMPROVES BRAIN HEALTH
A 2017 study investigated the effects of Methylene blue on adult neural stem cells in mice. Although no differences in the ability of the stem cells to multiply were identified, there was a general potential of MB to increase the migratory capacity of adult neural stem cells i.e. neural mobility. Methylene blue made it easier for the brain to “re-wire” itself (R).
In 2012, a study investigating the mechanisms of Methylene blue’s neuroprotective effects found that Methylene blue could reduce superoxide (potent free radical) production by acting as an alternative mitochondrial electron transfer carrier, as well as a recyclable anti-oxidant in mitochondria (R).
Methylene blue inhibits GABA receptor function by interacting with the GABA binding site (R). This could explain the compound’s positive effect on the CNS (R).
METHYLENE BLUE TREATS SEPTIC SHOCK
It is thought that the sudden release of nitric oxide is responsible for cardiovascular problems associated with septic shock.
Methylene blue has been found very effective in improving the arterial pressure and cardiac function in septic shock. Most likely because it is a potent inhibitor of guanylate cyclase, an enzyme involved in the nitric oxide-mediated relaxation of the blood vessels (R).
METHYLENE BLUE TREATS METHEMOGLOBINEMIA
Methemoglobinemia is a potentially fatal condition that is characterized by the inability of haemoglobin to carry oxygen due to the ferrous part of the heme molecule being oxidized to a ferric state (R).
Methylene Blue, which reacts with red blood cells to form leukomethylene blue, acts as a reducing agent of oxidized haemoglobin, converting the ferric ion back to its oxygen-carrying ferrous state (R)
METHYLENE BLUE EFFECTIVELY TREATS POISONING
Methylene blue has a long history of being used to treat cyanide poisoning but has now been replaced by other treatments (R).
METHYLENE BLUE ENHANCES PHOTODYNAMIC THERAPY
Methylene Blue combined with light treatment is an effective way to control oral lichen planus (R).
Photodynamic using Methylene blue and non-coherent light was found to be an effective treatment for the leishmaniasis infection (R)
Similarly, Methylene blue can be combined with a LED device to create and effective photodynamic antifungal therapy against chromoblastomycosis (R).
A 2010 study found that Methylene blue-mediated photodynamic therapy, in combination with low-level light therapy, is a suitable treatment protocol for recurrent herpes (R).
Methylene blue, in combination with light, also inactivates the viral nucleic acid of hepatitis-C and HIV (R).
Researchers of a 2009 study found that photodynamic therapy, using Methylene blue as the photosensitizer, is a potential solution to cases of drug-resistant psoriasis (R).
Methylene Blue Dosage and Administration
Methylene blue can be given in a number of ways: slow IV injection over a number of minutes, IV infusions, orally or topically.
Although oral preparations are not commercially available in many healthcare systems, they have previously been prepared by diluting 50-100mg in 100-200ml of water
Methylene Blue Safety
Methylene blue is a very safe drug when used in therapeutic doses (<2mg/kg) (R). The following negative effects are all attributable to very high dosages.
Toxicity has been reported with high doses. Side effects of Methylene blue toxicity include cardiac arrhythmias, coronary vasoconstriction, decreased cardiac output and blood flow in different parts of the body (R).
Be aware that taking Methylene Blue can interfere with the reading of a pulse oximeter and create a falsely low oxygen saturation reading (R).
As discussed above, Methylene blue is a monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor. This property can cause extreme serotonin toxicity at doses >5mg/kg (very high dose) (R).