Written by Edward Shehab
Fact checked by The Brain Blog Team
Traumatic Brain Injury, also known as TBI, has been getting a lot of press of late, with NFL football players like Carson Wentz speaking more openly about concussions and ongoing news about current and former sports greats receiving diagnoses of chronic traumatic encephalopathy from repetitive head trauma.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a “disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury.” About 5.3 million Americans are living with a disability caused by TBI and the causes go beyond high impact sports like football, hockey and boxing to include falls, vehicular crashes, military injuries and a myriad of other activities.
Traumatic Brain Injuries result in microscopic changes that are not seen on CT scans, scattered throughout the brain. The symptoms can be subtle, like a brief change in mental acuity, or extreme, resulting in coma or even death. TBI is also associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Anyone who experiences brain trauma should consult a medical doctor immediately to ensure the best outcome.
As a much-loved sport in the United States, football will undoubtedly continue to be a somewhat brutal game and player athletes are wholly aware of the injury risks that they’re taking when they sign an NFL contract. The National Football League is gaining significant attention around the topic of brain injury, as players continue to come forward with different brain diseases, all linked to TBI.
A large number of retired NFL players who have suffered concussions while playing professionally have developed significant cognitive issues, including dementia, Alzheimer's disease, Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, ten former NFL football players, including former Los Angeles Rams player Eric Stevens (age 30), have been diagnosed with ALS, “The total number of NFL players, living or dead, with ALS isn’t known. But the settlement to concussion litigation between more than 20,000 former players and the league provides a hint. The most recent data from the agreement shows 56 players or their estates applied for compensation for ALS … Researchers have suggested that repeated brain trauma like the kind experienced by NFL players increases the risk of ALS.”
The NFL has responded with multiple efforts to address the TBI concern, including investing $60 million into the “Play Smart. Play Safe.” initiative, designed to “improve the understanding of the biomechanics of head injuries in professional football and to create incentives for helmet manufacturers, small businesses, entrepreneurs, universities and others to develop and commercialize new and improved protective equipment, including helmets.”
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the most frequent cause of death from sports-related accidents and injuries is traumatic brain injury. They report that “sports and recreational activities contribute to about 21% of all traumatic brain injuries among American children and adolescents.” Causes of TBI in young people include contact sports like rugby, football, baseball and boxing, along with non-contact activities like skateboarding, bicycling and horseback riding.
For example, in 2016, ABC reported that, “Researchers examined data from the National Sample Program of the National Trauma Data Bank and found there were 1,444 incidents of TBI from falling or getting hit in contact sports, 806 TBIs from skateboarding or from roller skates and 427 TBIs related to an accident during an equestrian sport.”
If your son or daughter is an avid athlete, it may be difficult to forbid them from taking part in activities that cause TBI, though you can minimize the potential for injury. The Centers for Disease Control has created an inclusive database of safety tips here: CDC Brain Injury Safety Tips and Prevention
My own son is an athlete. He plays catcher in baseball and quarterback in football. As a result of playing these positions, he’s at some risk of head trauma and concussion during games. I believe by having my son take Memory Health we are actively supporting and fortifying his brain – before and after any potential brain injury.
Is there anything that can be done to help reverse the damage done during sports activities? Research shows that, in many cases, the answer is a resounding yes. Recommendations from brain health professionals include a hyperbaric oxygen treatments, the brain health diet, exercise, mind-body practices like yoga and tai chi, acupuncture and nutritional supplements.
Several different supplements have been shown to support brain health by reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the brain, specifically fish oil, Omega-3 fatty acids, Carotenoids and other Nootropics. Click through to read our Brain Blog on "The Best Brain Supplements for Brain Health." For example, the active ingredients in the all-natural brain health supplement Memory Health—Omega-3s, carotenoids Lutein, Zeaxanthin and Meso-Zeaxanthin, and Vitamin E—are all shown to be powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. This product has also been granted a patent in the U.K. for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases like TBI. Learn more about Memory Health here: The Memory Health Story .