Why Playing Football is Dangerous for Your Brain

Researchers have obtained scientific evidence proving that hits to the head, which are characteristic of playing certain sports and especially football, can result in CTE. That is why, they say, many professional football players suffer from dementia and other kinds of cognitive impairment after they retire. Do you still want to be the next Jerry Rice?

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Suspect: concussions

Until recently, there was no evidence to prove that it’s hits to the head that trigger changes in the brain which lead to its deterioration. Researchers suspected that it is concussions that should be blamed for it. However, a study carried out by a team of investigators from the Boston University revealed that concussions have nothing to do with CTE, which is so common among professional football players and other athletes and some veterans.

Concussion is a syndrome which comprises of a set of neurological symptoms. It happens after getting hit in the head, but it’s not the same as traumatic brain injury: the latter implies damage to the brain tissue. It does not necessarily mean that if you have TBI, you have a concussion, and vice versa.

CTE, standing for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is another thing – it’s a disease, and it is capable of progressing regardless of whether you keep on being hit in the head. It is the cumulative effect of multiple hits that contributes to CTE development: you brain has not fully recovered from the previous hit, but experiences it again and again. It was thought that concussions should be the considered the main risk factor, but it appears that it’s repetitive hits that cause changes in the brain, which are especially dangerous in case of young athletes.

Dangerous sports

The team analyzed samples of brains of teenage football players who died after being hit in the head several times. There were only 4 cases analyzed, but the results are definitely alarming. Besides, they used mice as models to see if their findings were correct, as they recreated head trauma in the rodents.

The brain pathology observed in the young football players was also found in the lab mice. The pathology was not linked to concussion signs, which include impaired balance, altered arousal, etc. According to the investigators, they found causal evidence suggesting there is a link between head impact, early CTE, and TBI – but not concussions.

Out of four teenagers involved, two teenagers died by suicide. All of them had brain injuries some time before death (1-128 days). Having analyzed the samples, the researchers found post-traumatic pathology of different kinds. In one of them, early-stage CTE was diagnosed, and two others had abnormal levels of tau protein: such accumulations are a marker for CTE. The teenagers were 17 and 18 years old.

This issue is being addressed by sports authorities who strive to develop safety rules and set certain restrictions regarding playing strategies and necessary equipment. Although playing sports is definitely a good idea, being a professional player is associated with a variety of diseases, and CTE appears to be the one to which football players are especially prone.

Not so sport-specific

Sportsmen are not the only people who belong to this high risk group. Repetitive head injuries are also experienced by those affected by domestic abuse, the homeless, and those in prisons. Even if a hit does not lead to a concussion, the injury triggers changes in the brain, and it is another reason for us to do our best to fight poverty and prevent people from suffering due to domestic abuse, as well as bringing up children who value virtue, not wealth and fame.

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