The One Super Bowl Prediction Based on Brain Imaging
Every year on Super Bowl Sunday, people gather around the TV to root for their home team and to place all sorts of bets—who will win, if they’ll beat the point spread, the total number of passing yards, and so on—all based on the predictions of sports bookies. But there’s one prediction that our brain imaging work says is a sure thing—you can bet that nearly every player on the field will have experienced some form of damage to the brain from playing football.
All those crushing helmet-to-helmet hits over a player’s career can cause mild traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) that often go undetected. As the number of hits to the head add up, it is associated with an increased risk of anxiety, depression, anger, attention problems, weight gain, brain fog, substance abuse, memory loss, and suicide. Football players literally have their brains, their mental health, and their lives on the line every time they take the field.
Football and the Brain
At Amen Clinics, we’ve been studying the brains of football players for decades. Our brain imaging work reveals that Pop Warner and high school players, aged 8 to 18, already show clear evidence of TBIs. The brain scans of college players show even greater damage. And the scans of NFL players are even worse. In the past few decades, Amen Clinics has performed several studies on active and retired professional football players, and the results are startling.
For a 2011 study on 100 active and former NFL players from 27 different teams, we took detailed histories, had the players perform cognitive tests and did both brain SPECT scans and QEEG studies on each of them. The results were very clear—playing football damaged multiple areas of the brain in greater than 90% of the players. There was persistent damage to the following areas of the brain:
- Prefrontal cortex (judgment, planning, forethought, and impulse control)
- Temporal lobes (learning, memory, and mood stability)
- Cerebellum (mental agility and processing speed)
To date, we have conducted 4 studies on gridiron greats. Our 2012 study in Translational Psychiatry found that as retired NFL players’ weight goes up—which it often does after they stop playing—the size and function of their brain goes down. Even a study sponsored by the National Football League itself found that retired players ages 30-49 were given a dementia-related diagnosis at 20 times the rate of age-matched populations, while players over the age of 50 received a dementia-related diagnosis 5 times the national average.
At this point, there is little doubt that playing football at any level can cause long-term cognitive and emotional trouble.
It’s Never Too Early to Start a Brain “Pre-hab” Program
That’s why every single person who plays tackle football—and anyone who is at risk from brain trauma, including firefighters, police officers, and military personnel—needs to be involved in a brain “pre-hab” program on a daily basis. You can’t wait to have a concussion or major head injury to start thinking about the health of your brain. You need to be pro-active about it.
What’s exciting is that our brain imaging work with football players shows that damaged brains can be healed. In a 2011 study we put 30 retired NFL players with damaged brains and cognitive impairment on a brain healthy program for an average of 6 months. At the end of the trial 80% showed significant improvement in blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, as well as the parietal lobes, occipital lobes, anterior cingulate gyrus, and cerebellum. And cognitive testing showed statistically significant increases in scores of attention, memory, reasoning, information processing speed, and accuracy.
10 Brain Pre-Hab Strategies You Can Bet On
On Super Bowl Sunday, think about your own brain health too. By putting your brain in a healing environment, you can boost your brain reserve, which is the extra cushion of brain function you have to help you deal with whatever stresses or injuries come your way.
Here are 10 simple pre-hab strategies you can bet on to protect your brain from injury.
- Always wear your seatbelt when you drive or ride in a vehicle.
- To prevent falls or other injuries, do not carry too many packages or boxes at one time.
- Wear a helmet when skiing, biking, etc.
- Avoid going up on the roof or climbing ladders.
- Slow down.
- Do not text and walk or drive.
- Be careful when going up and down stairs; hold the handrail.
- If you have had a head trauma, have your hormone levels checked and optimize any that are low.
- Take the herb peppermint to help with healing.
- Eat eggs to boost acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps with learning and memory
At Amen Clinics, we have helped thousands of children and adults with concussions or TBIs to heal their brain and minimize their symptoms. We use a combination of the least toxic, most effective therapies, which may include neurofeedback, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), nutraceuticals, and medications, as well as simple lifestyle changes that can make a big difference.
If you are in a profession that’s at high risk for trauma—such as football players, firefighters, police officers, and others—speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.