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One Season of High School Football Tied to Brain Changes

Update Date: Apr 09, 2014 11:23 AM EDT

Since football is a high-impact, contact sport, many researchers have studied how repeated hits to the head might affect mental health. These studies have found that concussions can negatively affect athletes' cognitive abilities. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of participating in high school football on the brain. They found that just one season of football could lead to brain changes even if the players never suffered from a concussion.

Researchers headed by Dr. Alexander Powers, an assistant professor of neurosurgery, pediatrics and orthopedics at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center recruited 45 players from a high school varsity football team. The researchers conducted brain scans of the players before and after their 2012 season. During the season, the athletes had played with a helmet installed with an accelerometer device. The device helped record linear and rotational accelerations that the researchers used to estimate the force of impact on the head.

"During the season, we captured every single hit. Every practice, every game," Powers said according to Medical Xpress.

The researchers found that all 45 players did not suffer from a concussion. However, the players who had more hits to the head also had more white matter show up in their brain scans. The researchers stated that they did not find out if the brain changes were temporary or permanent. However, the relationship between white matter and hits to the head could be alarming.

"[The white matter] is essentially the conduction part of the brain. The fact that we do have this abnormality in the white matter that correlates so well with the amount of hits that kids had is really striking," Powers said and added, "I will not let [my sons] play high school football."

Powers plans on examining new data gathered fro the team's 2013 season. The study's findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons located in San Francisco, CA.

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