Researchers Receive $3.4 Million NIH Grant to Evaluate Football’s Tradeoffs for Brain Health

Over 25 million Americans play soccer, the most popular sport in the world. Football significantly benefits brain health by boosting aerobic capacity and the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain, but it also has a downside: recent studies show that a highly repetitive ball header is associated structural changes in the brain and poorer cognitive performance similar to the brain damage caused. by concussion.

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have now received a five-year, $3.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to assess the trade-offs between the aerobic brain benefits of soccer and the harmful effects of lead in a study using neuroimaging, exercise testing, and cognitive testing.

“Football players and their parents have been rightly warned of the potential risks of getting into football, but that leads to mixed messages about the wisdom of playing the sport,” said Michael Lipton, MD, Ph.D. ., Professor of Radiology and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience Dominick P. Purpura and Associate Director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at Einstein and Director of MRI Services at Montefiore Health System. “This grant will allow us to determine football’s trade-offs when it comes to brain health so people can make informed decisions and we can establish evidence-based guidelines for heading.”

Dr. Lipton’s previous studies have shown that adult amateur soccer players who coach more than a thousand times in a year show poorer cognitive performance and structural brain changes not found in those who coach. much less or not at all. Other findings by Dr. Lipton have shown that cap is worse for women’s brains than men’s. “What we want to determine in our new study is whether the benefits of soccer mediate the adverse effects of cognitive performance seeking and, if so, whether a threshold level of aerobic activity is required to confer protection,” he said.

The new study will recruit 280 young men and women – a group comprising 140 football players with high (70) and low (70) cap exposure, 70 non-collision athletes and 70 non-athletes. At the start of the study and again two years later, participants will be tested to measure their aerobic capacity, undergo brain MRIs to determine their white matter structure, and complete detailed surveys and tests to assess their cognitive status. Based on their findings, Dr. Lipton and his colleagues will determine whether the aerobic benefits of football outweigh the damage to the head. The researchers will also investigate whether genetic factors and gender can explain individual differences in results.

We hope our findings can help people decide whether to engage in soccer or other contact sports, such as soccer, that have been linked to brain damage.”

Dr. Michael Lipton, Director of MRI Services at Montefiore Health System

The grant, titled “Heading and Soccer: Understanding the Cognitive Risks, Benefits, and Potential Mediating Role of White Matter,” was provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the NIH. (R01NS123374)


Albert Einstein College of Medicine

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