On September 24, 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported that some of the powerhouse high school football programs in Southern California were having trouble fielding teams.[i] Mater Dei’s freshman team dropped 30%, Loyola had the fewest number of freshman players in 2 decades, and significant drops were also seen at Notre Dame, Alemany, and Crespi, where I played football 47 years ago. Participation in football has declined in 5 of the last 6 years.

This is bad news for high schools, colleges, and the NFL that make billions of dollars each year at the expense of the health of millions of children, teenagers and young adults. And, it will get much worse for football now that the gripping movie “Concussion” has been released. It stars Will Smith as the Nigerian pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), or football dementia, in Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster’s brain and then others, and Dr. Omalu’s subsequent war against the NFL.

The research is clear: playing tackle football at any level can cause long term brain damage. In 2011 my colleagues and I published the first and largest brain imaging study on 100 active and retired NFL players from 27 teams and all positions.[ii] Over 90% of them showed clear evidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on two different types of studies: single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), which evaluates blood flow and activity patterns, and quantitative EEG, which looks at electrical activity patterns. There was consistent damage to the brain’s prefrontal cortex (judgment, planning, forethought, and impulse control), temporal lobes (learning, memory, and mood stability), and cerebellum (mental agility and processing speed). And our group is not the only one reporting these problems. Last month a study from the Department of Veteran Affairs and Boston University reported that 96% (87-91) of former NFL players autopsied had clear evidence of CTE, and that 79% of males who played football at ANY level had it as well.[iii]

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[i] http://www.latimes.com/sports/highschool/la-sp-freshman-football-sondheimer-20150925-column.html

[ii] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21304145

[iii] http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/09/researchers-find-evidence-of-cte-in-96-of-deceased-nfl-players-they-tested

  • socalscot

    Wow…I’m glad my son didn’t play football in high school.

  • Thank you for enlightening us, Dr. Amen. I had a concussion that put me in the hospital for 2 weeks when I was 10 years old. I know for a fact that it affected my long and short term memory and reasoning. Thanks to the new brain health supplement I’ve been taking since May, my brain is repairing and I’m starting to regain things I lost from those years. I worry my nephew that plays middle school football and that he could get this if he continues to play, which he will…he’s really good.

    • Dr. Daniel Amen

      Glad you are feeling better. It is so important to take good care of your brain – it runs your life.

  • Kathy Lawrence

    I have heard of EHT is good for the brain. Is there anything about this product for brain health?

    • Debi Wigchert

      EHT is incredible!!!!

  • Playing in the yard can cause brain damage. How many regular population has CTE? We will never know since they will never give their brain up for study. This is not to deny the problem. But there is denial also on the anti football side of good science. Additionally do you know soccer has as many if not more concussions reported as a percent. (Football has 3 or more times the players of soccer so more potential). Of course 10% has left youth sports recently and I guess doing Play Station. Then Doctors can argue about how sedentary they are.

    Please have a real conversation on this. like damaged pineal glands are getting blamed for depression on returning war vets. On the notion that concussive noise damages the gland. yet who in the brain/concussion/cte industry wants to talk about that? Also are people allowed to have good ole fashion depression from an Identity crisis anymore? Work your whole life being a kid, playing a kids game, adored. And like that its over, gone. Im sure everyone could handle that. I question if that happened to our good Doctor if he would not get a bit down? Again not a denial. Just an accusation that the conversation is not being taken seriously by too many. Especially football. No denying that. But the so called leaders that should be doing the educating are in my opinion distracting from the real conversation which like most things important in life not so simple.

    • Dr. Daniel Amen

      Yes, CTE is the result of repeated trauma to the brain most notably the result of contact sports, such as football, ice hockey, boxing, etc. In addition to soccer as you mentioned, cheerleading has a very high percentage rate of concussion. Untreated traumatic brain injury (or concussions) regardless of how they were sustained – from recreation, sport, falls, accidents, combat and so forth are an underlying cause (but not the only cause) of many problems including homelessness, substance and alcohol abuse, job and school failure, suicide, depression and ADD. I agree, more people in leadership positions, including parents, need to take this topic very seriously.

      • How does one treat what you cannot see? And isnt a concussion dead tissue never to come back again?

        • Dr. Daniel Amen

          A concussion causes injury to the brain which eventually causes the areas affected to have have lower activity and decreased blood flow. With treatment and healthy lifestyle choices, those cells can become more active again. Typically dead tissue is the result of a loss of blood and oxygen to the brain such as what can happen with strokes and anoxic brain injuries (loss of oxygen to the brain). Also, more severe head trauma (TBI) can cause profound injury to areas of the brain resulting in severely decreased activity making the affected areas vulnerable to cell death.

  • majorcurry

    If If we stop playing football, what excuse will we use for being stupid?

  • Kristi Kiki Krueger Brennan

    Dr Amen. I had a stroke and I now have cognitive deficits. Would taking Brain & Body Power Max help me to get better?

    • Hi Kristi, Brain & Body Power Max has many components to support brain health. But as always, please, check with your physician.