A new study shows that the brains of college football players already appear to display some negative effects of taking hits for several years, Reuters reports.
Researchers at Tulsa's Laureate Institute for Brain Research discovered that athletes who have been diagnosed with concussions and have played for years had a smaller hippocampus, a component of the brain that deals with memory and spatial navigation.
The research team studied 25 college football players who had been diagnosed with a concussion, 25 college football players without a history of concussions, and 25 young men who had never played. All had magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains, with researchers then measuring the volumes of different regions. The football players had hippocampuses 17 to 26 percent smaller than the non-athletes. The players who had concussions in the past had even smaller hippocampuses than the other athletes.
"We keep hearing about retired football players having diseases that relate back to smaller hippocampuses," Patrick Bellgowan, the study's senior author, tells Reuters. "Maybe this is just the precursor of it." Bellgowan added that a smaller hippocampus is linked to schizophrenia, depression, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Symptoms of CTE include aggression, dementia, and memory loss.