The “Ice Bucket Challenge” has boosted awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but has also reinvigorated the debate over how to prevent head injuries from contact sports that have been tied to development of the fatal neurodegenerative condition, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Now, a study attempts to put the debate to rest, clearly finding a connection between ALS and hits to the head in sports, The New York Times
Ever since legendary Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig died of the disease in 1941 at age 37, many s have connected ALS with athletes and sports. In the past decade, several studies indicated professional Italian soccer players were disproportionately prone to ALS, with about a sixfold higher incidence than would have been expected numerically.
But now a small, follow-up study of ALS patients in Europe have found notable associations between playing contact sports and a heightened risk for A.L.S.
The research, published in the Annals of Neurology, involved almost two dozen medical investigators from five nations, who tracked 652 ALS patients’ activities and compared the results with with 1,166 people of matching ages who did not have the disease. The results showed that physical activity — whether at work, in sports, or during exercise — did not increase people’s risk of developing and may even offer some protection against the disease.
But the findings also showed a history of multiple hits to the head increased ALS risks. Men and women who had sustained at least two concussions or other serious head injuries were much more likely than other people, including never-concussed athletes, to develop ALS.
A second new study, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, that tracked 50 years’ worth of ALS studies found that “in the general population, physical activity is not a risk factor for ALS,” amplifying the evidence that it is likely head injuries — not athletics — that may increase the odds of developing the condition.
In the United States, a few researchers have begun to look at football and ALS risk, in light of a growing body of research tying concussions to Alzheimer’s.