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Football Concussions Shrink Hippocampus

Football Concussions Shrink Hippocampus

112412-BANGIN-HIS-HEAD-LA-PI_20121124233641782_660_320A new study has found that football players with a history of concussions have a smaller brain area connected to memory and emotion. 

While the real-life significance of brain difference between football and non-football players is not yet clear, these findings have demonstrated initial evidence of long-term effects on the mind among young players.

Researchers from the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Oklahoma led by associate professor Patrick Bellgowan analyzed the MRI brain scan results of 50 college football players. Half of them had a history of concussion. They compared the results with 25 non-players of the same age and education level.

The researchers focused on the hippocampus – the area of the brain that stores memories and regulates emotions. They found that players from both football groups showed a smaller hippocampus when compared with non-players. Furthermore, the difference was more obvious among players that had a history of concussion. When compared with their non-player counterparts, the size of the hippocampus was 25 percent smaller.

“Other studies have evaluated the effects on older athletes, such as retired NFL players, but no one has studied 20-year-olds until now – and the results were astounding,” said Bellgowan in a news release. “The next step is to assess what caused this difference in hippocampus size.”

Though the findings gave relevant results, the researchers admitted that more work is needed to establish a relationship between the sport and the size of the hippocampus, particularly among college football players. It should be noted that other factors can affect hippocampal size. These include genetics, hormones and general intelligence. The shrinking of the hippocampus, dubbed as “hippocampal atrophy” has been attributed to stress that is said to be the number one causing factor. This hippocampal shrinking also occurs among older adults, and is largely regarded as the first sign of dementia.

Further details of the study were published on the May 14 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association.

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