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Optimum Performance: Is one blow to the head too many in football? |

Last week I read about a study published July 25 in the Journal of the American Medical Association regarding the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a neurodegenerative disease — that is thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head.

The research is the work of neuropathologist Ann McKee, the Director of the CTE Center at Boston University. She has amassed the largest CTE brain bank in the world.

McKee examined the brains of 202 deceased players of American football players—111 were former NFL player—of which 110 were diagnosed postmortem with CTE. The ages of the donors ranged from 23 to 89 and represented every position on the football field.

A similar story in the New York Times noted that “the NFL’s top health and safety official has acknowledged a link between football and CTE, and the league has begun to steer children away from playing the sport in its regular form, encouraging safer tackling methods and promoting flag football.”

It’s logical to ask, does CTE have its infancy in youth football, accelerating with each blow to the head from high school all the way to the pros?

While age is mandatory, maturity is optional — especially if the head trauma eventually degenerates to confusion, depression and dementia, the hallmark symptoms of CTE, which can only be diagnosed after death.

However, according to Morteza Shamsnia, Professor of Neurology at Tulane, “We do not need a dead brain to diagnose the CTE anymore.”


“With recent advances in high resolution 3D MRI neuro-imagings that utilize complicated software and hardware,” Shamsnia said, “we have capabilities in our center to see the changes in the brain within a few hours, days, to weeks after a single head trauma.”

And, Shamsnia added, “These changes could provide information about the future of the injured individuals. I believe these objective findings should become a standard of care for patients with concussion.”

Unfortunately, science does not have answers yet to the questions of who develops CTE, or how many blows to the head start the process in susceptible individuals.

Last year there was a ground-breaking study, “Effects of Docosahexaenoic Acid (an omega 3 fatty acid) on Biomarkers of Head Trauma in American Football”, that appeared in the June issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Researchers from Texas Christian University, George Mason University, John Peter Smith Hospital, University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and the UCL Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London, stated that, “American football athletes are exposed to subconcussive impacts over the course of the season resulting in elevations in serum neurofilament light (NFL), a biomarker of axonal injury.”

Eighty-one National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I American football athletes were assigned in a randomized, double-blinded manner to ingest either 2, 4, 6 grams per day of DHA or placebo. Blood sampling occurred at specific times over the course of 189 days, which coincided with changes in intensity, hours of contact, and likely changes in head impacts.

The results demonstrated taking a DHA fish oil supplement now has been proven to drop markers of sub-conclusive blows.

It was concluded that, “Findings from this study, the first large-scale study examining potential prophylactic use of DHA in American football athletes, include identification of the optimal dose of DHA, suggesting a neuroprotective effect of DHA supplementation.”

If you’re a parent of a football player, I suggest you Google this DHA study. Then, consult your primary care physician, as to whether DHA supplementation is a viable option to reduce a marker of head trauma until science further unravels the CTE story.

If you take that head shot, take advantage of the new diagnostic imaging.

Source: Optimum Performance: Is one blow to the head too many in football? |

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