Can Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Be Helped?

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Your brain is very soft—similar to the texture of soft butter—and it floats inside your skull, which is very hard and has many bony ridges. Can you picture what could happen to your brain when you get hit in the head?

That delicate organ between your ears gets forced into those knife-sharp ridges which can cause bleeding, bruising, tearing, and scarring to your brain. Even wearing a helmet cannot stop the cascade of injury to the brain, although it does help to protect you from cracking your skull.

Now imagine what happens in professional contact sports, such as football, rugby, and ice hockey—or even soccer where heading the ball is part of the game. Day after day, year after year, those athletes are sustaining hits to their heads. And even if they don’t lead to concussions, the repetitive trauma to the brain is likely setting the stage for changes in how their brain might function in the near or distant future.

What Exactly is CTE?

The term CTE—chronic traumatic encephalopathy—was largely brought into the public’s awareness through the movie Concussion (which stars Will Smith) based on the work of Bennet Omalu, MD. He is a neuropathologist who did the autopsies of several former NFL players and found excessive deposits of abnormal tau protein in their brains.

Healthy tau is something we are supposed to have. Tau proteins are found inside brain cells and provide the structure, like train tracks, to help cells clear unwanted and toxic proteins. However, damage to the brain from injury—like a concussion—or a disease such as Alzheimer’s can cause the tau proteins to become abnormal and interfere with cell functioning.

This phenomenon was actually first identified back in the 1920s, when the term “punch drunk syndrome” was used to describe some boxers, who eventually developed changes in personality, psychiatric symptoms, memory issues, and behavior problems, which are similar to the issues faced by some athletes who have had careers in other professional contact sports, such as those mentioned above.

CTE is a progressive degenerative disease and the exact underlying mechanisms that lead to the abnormal tau proteins are still being researched. There is no blood test for it—it can only be diagnosed by autopsy—but just because a person has a history of head injury, it does not mean their brain can’t get better.

In fact, at Amen Clinics, we know it is possible for injured brains to improve because we have seen it time and time again with our patients.

At Amen Clinics, we know it is possible for injured brains to improve, because we have seen it time and time again with our patients. Click To Tweet

Even the Brains of NFL Players Can Get Better!

Several years ago, the research team at Amen Clinics, in collaboration with scientists from three major universities, conducted one of the first research studies on reversing brain damage in former NFL players. As part of the study, the players underwent cognitive testing and quantitative EEG studies, along with brain SPECT imaging to assess blood flow patterns in the brain. These measures were taken before treatment started and then again at the end of the study.

The results from the pre-treatment brain scans revealed that more than 90% of the players had damage to multiple areas of their brains, especially in these:

  • The prefrontal cortex, affecting judgment, planning, forethought, and impulse control
  • The temporal lobes involved with learning, memory, and mood stability
  • The cerebellum affects mental agility and processing speed

The treatment protocol for the men included weight loss (for those who needed it) and taking prescribed amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, a high-potency multivitamin, and other brain-supportive supplements.

Dr. Amen and his colleagues watched over the progress of the players, and at the end of the study, found that 80% of them had improvements, not only on their cognitive testing but also on their brain scans which indicated that blood flow in areas of the brain got better!

You are Not Stuck with the Brain You Have

So it really is possible to change your brain and make it work better—even if you’ve done bad things to it—or it’s been decades since a head injury has occurred.  But in order to do this, it’s important to put your brain in a healing environment. In other words, you must start avoiding things that hurt your brain, including:

And instead, engage in things that help your brain, like these:

  • Eat a good diet with plenty of fresh produce, clean protein, and healthy fats like avocados.
  • Practice stress-management.
  • Take simple daily supplements, including a multivitamin, omega-3s, and vitamin D.
  • Get control of your automatic negative thoughts.
  • Engage in new learning.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly.
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Seek treatment for any mental health conditions.

Simple lifestyle changes like these—which are very doable—can really add up to helping you feel better, think more clearly, have improved energy and focus, and make better decisions each day.

When you take care of your brain, you take care of yourself, your goals, your relationships, and all the things that provide a sense of meaning in your life. You can do this!

Concussions and mental health problems shouldn’t wait. It’s important to get assessed and treated as soon as possible.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Your services do not help those of us who live on fixed incomes, no money, no help!
    Need options to help the needy and can’t afford it.

    Comment by Lysa Gutierrez — July 2, 2021 @ 5:28 PM

  2. I do Craniosacral Fascial Therapy . Head trauma needs to be reversed and healed before it leads to more layering. Reestablishing the CSF flow is imperative.

    Comment by Sharon — July 3, 2021 @ 5:36 AM

  3. This is very informative. Thx

    Comment by Mary Dermody — July 3, 2021 @ 12:48 PM

  4. Thank you for this. I am not an athlete but have had multiple concussions and dealt with many minor blows to the head as a teen. I currently have blood flow issues, had syncope from low blood pressure. I discovered you from Danica Patricks blog Pretty Intense, and am so grateful!!! This site is so informative and helpful. Thank you so much.

    Comment by Jennieq — January 25, 2023 @ 9:06 AM

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