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More evidence shows contact sports impact young brains

Contact sports and collision sports have been increasingly studied due to the risk of brain damage for participating athletes. Football and hockey, in particular, have been cited as sports where brain damage and concussions are high risk. A recent study even reported that the appearance CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy was found in 99% of deceased NFL players’ brains that were donated for scientific research. CTE is classified as a neurodegenerative brain disease which can cause memory loss and other common symptoms associated with dementia.

Now, a new study from St. Michael’s Hospital and St. Michael’s Neuroscience Research Program in Ontario Canada has found that contact and collision sports have an even greater impact on the brain and long-term health of youth athletes.

The researchers looked at brain scans of 65 varsity athletes, 23 from collision sports, 22 from contact sports, 20 from non-contact sports. They found that the athletes from collision and contact sports had structural and chemical differences in the brain versus athletes from non-contact sports.

Some of the differences observed in the brain scans were structural variations in white matter, which are fibers that connect different parts of the brain. There was also a decrease in the communication between different areas of the brain for athletes in higher contact sports.

It is worth noting that the researchers found no significant impairment in the varsity athletes, just marked differences in certain parts of the brain between athletes participating in contact sports versus non-contact sports.

Dr. Nathan Churchill, a postdoctoral fellow from St. Michael’s Neuroscience Research Program, noted that the study came about from the “growing concern about how participation in contact sports may affect the brain.”

This information helps to build a better understanding of how contact sports and collision sports impact brain activity and structure and the long-term ill-effects that high contact sports sometimes pose.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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