Former NFL player and sportscaster, Frank Gilford, passed away in August. Not only was he well known for his on and off the field talents, but his name suddenly became associated with a terrible brain disease that is becoming all too common among former athletes, chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. Gilford’s family said although he died from natural causes he also suffered from the debilitating effects of CTE which can affect thinking, memory, behavior and a person’s mood. His family decided to have his brain studied in hopes of shedding some light on the link between football and traumatic brain injury.
A new study suggests that an increase of risk for CTE can begin much earlier in life for those who play contact sports where concussions and head trauma are common.
Researchers analyzed the brains of 66 men who had donated their organs to the Mayo Clinic Brain Bank and participated in sports such as football, rugby, wrestling, boxing and basketball while in school. Their brains were compared to the brains of 198 people, including 66 women, who never played contact sports.
CTE was found in the brains of a third of the men who played amateur contact sports. But no sign of the disease was detected in the brains of those who never played contact sports, the researchers said.
"The 32 percent of CTE we found in our brain bank is surprisingly high for the frequency of neurodegenerative pathology within the general population," wrote study author Kevin Bieniek, a pre-doctoral student in Mayo Graduate School's Neurobiology of Disease program.
"If one in three individuals who participate in a contact sport goes on to develop CTE pathology, this could present a real challenge down the road," Bieniek said.
Dr. Dennis Dickson, senior study author and neuropathologist at Mayo Clinic, noted that this study is the first to use newly developed government criteria to diagnose CTE in nonprofessional athletes.
"The frequency with which he [Bieniek] found CTE pathology in former [amateur] athletes exposed to contact sports was surprising," Dickson said. "It is pathology that had gone previously unrecognized."
Some individuals may be at an even greater risk of developing CTE if they have a genetic marker. Researchers have found two genetic markers that may affect the possibility of developing CTE.
"These markers need to be further studied in a larger group of CTE cases, but they could be very important in determining whether an individual is at greater risk of developing these brain changes," Bieniek said.
"The purpose of our study is not to discourage children and adults from participating in sports because we believe the mental and physical health benefits are great," he noted.
"It is vital that people use caution when it comes to protecting the head. Through CTE awareness, greater emphasis will be placed on making contact sports safer, with better protective equipment and fewer head-to-head contacts," Bieniek concluded.
The study was published in the December issue of journal Acta Neuropathologica.
Source: Robert Preidt, http://consumer.healthday.com/cognitive-health-information-26/concussions-news-733/playing-contact-sports-in-youth-may-raise-risk-for-degenerative-brain-disease-705847.html