The Panthers will square off against the Broncos in Sunday's 50th Super Bowl. But as the players crash into each other throughout the game, they may suffer concussions that will increase their risk for dementia as they age. Even worse, they may already be playing with life-altering brain injuries.
"Many, if not all, have suffered some form of concussive injury in the past," says Adam Breiner, ND, and medical director of The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center in Fairfield, Connecticut.
"Data suggests that at least a third of the professional football players will develop long-term cognitive problems at an earlier age when compared to the general population.
"The long-term effects of concussions are cumulative, and may result in cognitive and emotional impairment as players age," he tells Newsmax Health. "However, these effects can certainly manifest earlier in life if the player is genetically predisposed to have cognitive issues after suffering a brain injury, or is not allowed proper time to heal after a known concussion."
Large numbers of professional football players complain of memory loss as they age. Renowned quarterback Joe Namath, aged 72, blames his brain damage on concussions he suffered playing football. Brett Favre, 46, has revealed he also has severe memory loss as a result of his 20-year career.
Players don't have to have long careers to have severe brain damage. Former New York Giants player Tyler Sash was only 27 years old when he died of a drug overdose. An autopsy found he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CXT), a disease related to head trauma.
Sash was dropped by the Giants after suffering a concussion, one of at least five serious head injuries he had while a player.
The damage from successive concussions aggravates damage from previous ones. "The long-term neurocognitive decline found in CTE is due to repeated injuries to the brain. Once a concussive injury occurs, an inflammatory cascade is set off. If this inflammation is still present when another force trauma happens, the injured brain is further aggravated."
Unfortunately, football and other athletes aren't the only people at risk — you are also at risk for a brain-damaging concussion.
"It's important to understand that concussions are much more serious than 'just' a knock on the head — they can negatively affect your mental and physical health for the rest of your life," says Breiner.
"Potential long-term effects of concussions include abnormal brain activity that lasts for years, memory problems, attention deficits, difficulty handling anger, language impairment, personality changes, difficulty making decisions, and 'foggy' thinking.
"Don’t think that since you do not play tackle football a concussion can never happen to you," says Breiner. "We are all at risk."
"Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and concussions are characterized by torn nerve axons, bruising, and inflammation," explains Dr. Breiner. "If not treated properly, this damage can continue to impede brain function, even long after the initial injury."
Common-sense precautions can minimize some risk, says Breiner. "If you are going into an environment where there is a higher likelihood of falling or hitting your head, take precautions such as wearing a helmet.
"However, concussions can also result from everyday accidents like slipping on the kitchen floor and hitting your head. For this reason it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of concussions, and to seek medical attention if you’ve received a blow to the head."
If you've had a head injury, there are steps you can take to minimize damage. "Once the initial brain injury occurs an inflammatory cascade is set in motion," says Breiner. "This contributes significantly to further neuronal injury. Therefore, utilizing anti-inflammatory nutrients is key."
Dr. Breiner recommends:
• Omega 3 fatty acids
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin E
• Green Tea Extract
"Research suggests that these nutrients can speed the healing process in the injured brain," he said. "Taken preventively, they may protect against developing worse symptoms if a traumatic brain injury occurs."
If you do suffer a severe brain injury, Breiner recommends considering oxygen under pressure — hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).
"This amazing healing therapy decreases inflammation and swelling almost immediately, and has been shown to improve the brain function of patients who have suffered from mild as well as severe traumatic brain injuries," he said.
"During treatment, the patient is placed in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber (either lying or sitting) where he or she breathes 100 percent pure oxygen. The pressure is increased inside the chamber so that the oxygen dissolves into the plasma, body tissues, and brain at many times what is experienced at normal atmospheric conditions. This process helps reduce inflammation and swelling, and stimulates healing and detoxification of damaged tissues.
"We have been using HBOT to treat traumatic brain injuries for over 10 years at my clinic, with tremendous results."
If you do get a brain concussion, be sure to follow your doctor's advice and take it easy.
"Many people return to sports or other risky activities before they have fully healed," says Dr. Breiner. "For this reason, it's crucial to fully follow doctors' advice and to err on the side of caution."
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