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Omega-3s could have protective effects on football players

Research points to the fact that American football has the highest incidence of concussions, an injury that is often referenced as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) — with a sub-concussive blow referred to as a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a concussion, as a type of TBI caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.

Research in 2014 — Abnormal White Matter Integrity Related to Head Impact Exposure in a Season of High School Varsity Football — published in the journal Neurotrauma, referenced that during a single season of high school football, there were changes in MRI tests of players indicative of axonal injury in the absence of a concussion diagnosis.

Johns Hopkins Medicine says, “diffuse axonal injury (DAI) is the tearing of the brain’s long connecting nerve fibers (axons) that happens when the brain is injured as it shifts and rotates inside the bony skull. DAI usually causes coma and injury to many different parts of the brain. The changes in the brain are often microscopic and may not be evident on computed tomography (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.”

Researchers from Texas Christian and George Mason Universities, John Peter Smith Hospital, Fort Worth, Texas, University of Gothenhurg, Sweden, and the Institute of Neurology, London, comment in — Effect of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) on a Biomarker of Head Trauma in American Football — published in 2016 in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise – that, “neurofilaments are abundant in key intermediate fibers in neurons and major components of the axonal skeleton.”

Further, “though the exact mechanism of release and subsequent appearance of neurofilament light (NFL) in biological fluids is not known, what is known is that significant changes occur in neurofilaments as a result of diffuse axonal injury as evidenced in animal models of traumatic brain injury (TBI).”

Elevations in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) NFL protein have been reported in boxers sustaining concussive or sub-concussive head impacts (TBI). The researchers note that there is enough evidence of the “utility of NFL as a marker of axonal damage in humans”– specifically, NFL has been found in the cerebrospinal fluid and plasma of patients suffering from neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory diseases.

DHA, the main Omega-3 fatty acid in the brain, “has received considerable attention as a possible intervention to mitigate pathology associated with mTBI. Prior investigation of TBI in animal models has demonstrated that supplemental DHA attenuates (reduces) axonal damage, when administered before insult” – note the researchers.

With this knowledge and the prior position statement of the American Society for Sports Medicine that protective equipment does not adequately reduce the incidence and severity of concussive sports, the investigators chose to examine the changes in serum NFL in conjunction with differing doses of supplemental DHA over the course of a season in American football athletes.

Using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel designed study, the researchers recruited 81 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I American football athletes, who ingested either 2, 4, or 6 grams (one gram = 1,000 milligrams) per day of DHA or placebo. The investigators comment that their study was, “the first large-scale study examining potential prophylactic use of DHA in American football athletes – (including) identification of optimal dose of DHA, suggesting a neuroprotective effect of DHA supplementation.”

Blood samples (serum NFL) were taken at specified times over the course of 189 days – consistent with transitions (summer work out, pre-season, in-season, post season), which reflected changes in training and competition intensity, physical contact time, and any deviations resulting from helmet-to-helmet contact.

The researchers reported, “for the first time that supplemental DHA likely attenuates the increase in serum NFL, suggesting a neuroprotective effect of DHA, specifically because it relates to axonal injury, the central pathogenic mechanism in mTBI.”

Originally appeared on Nola.com

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