Study Finds Link Between Contact Sports and Possible Brain Damage

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A new study published in the journal Brain on Sunday has found a link between contact sports and "chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)," which is brain damage caused by what researchers described as "repetitive mild traumatic brain injury." Encephalopathy, which can lead to aggression and depression, can in its later stages cause dementia as well as movement and speech problems, among other issues.

Researchers studied the brains of some 85 subjects post-mortem. Of those 85 subjects, 68 showed evidence of encephalopathy. Most of those whose brains showed signs of the disease had also been involved in contact sports, whether football, hockey, boxing, or some other such activity.

Here is some of the key information to have emerged from the new study regarding CTE and contact sports.

* Fifty of the people that showed signs of encephalopathy had been football players, including 33 who had played in the NFL, according to a New York Times report on the study.

* The other people that showed signs of encephalopathy included six high school football players, nine college football players, four former NHL players, and seven boxers. Twenty-one of the men that showed signs of CTE were military veterans.

* The New York Times reported that many of the football players that were studied had played in positions that required more physical contact. There were apparently several running backs and linemen among the group.

* The researchers, all of whom were affiliated with the Boston University School of Medicine, used their studies to categorize four different stages of CTE.

* The first stage is marked by mild symptoms including "headache and loss of attention," according to a Reuters report regarding the study. Second stage symptoms include angry outbursts, short-term memory loss, and possible depression. Stage three progresses to include "executive dysfunction" and "cognitive impairment," while stage four can be severe enough to cause dementia and an inability to find the words to speak.

* Reuters also noted that CTE had previously been known under the moniker of "dementia pugilistica" because of its frequent occurrence in the world of boxing.

* Robert Stern, who co-authored the study, told Reuters on Monday that researchers were looking at ways to more reliably test for CTE while the person is still alive. He also noted that CTE appears to result from frequent mild blows to the head, not one or two traumatic events.

* Stern cautioned parents not to become automatically alarmed if their child plays a contact sport, because CTE is "a disease of total, overall repetitive brain trauma," not the result of a "concussion or two."

Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.

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