PEAK TESTOSTERONE

CTE in Young Men

Are you a young man playing high contact sports?  If so, you are playing Russian Roulette with your brain, something I will show you below from newly discovered research.  Or are you a parent that has your son in a high contact sport?  I hope that this article will alert you to what that sport may be doing to your son, and I will go through point by point what I think some of the objections and misconceptions are about CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) to build the case:

1. CTE = Devastation.  I have read many cases of CTE and the end game is something you would not wish on your worst enemy much less your own child. There are no "nice outcomes," and very often the results can be extremely tragic or violent.  Consider these stories of former NFL players diagnosed with CTE:

a. Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest: to donate his brain.  Why?  Consider this description of his life in the years before his suicide: "Mostly, though, he talked about a raft of ailments that pained and depressed him past all tolerance: starburst headaches and blurred vision, maddening craters in his short-term memory, and his helplessness getting around the towns he knew. Once a man so acute he aced his finals at Notre Dame with little study time, he found himself now having to dash down memos about what he was doing and when. Names, simple words, what he'd eaten for dinner � it was all washing out in one long wave." [2]

b. Jovian Belcher killed both himself and his girlfriend at age 25:   "In 2012, the former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker shot and killed his girlfriend before driving to a Chiefs practice facility, where he committed suicide in front of team officials." [4]

c.  Andre Waters committed suicide at age 44.

d. Tyler Sash died of an overdose of pain medications at age 27.

2. CTE Can Occur At Any Position.  These young men suffered severe brain deterioration and became some combination of disoriented, angry and functionally incapacitated.  What sport for God's sake is worth risking that?  And, dads, I know that some of you may think, "Well, if I keep him out of the high contact positions such as lineman and safety, then everything should be okay."  However, that is simply not the case and Ken Stabler - one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history - was diagnosed with CTE.  .

By the way, I grew up watching football and playing it in parks, backyards and school yards whenever and wherever we could get a chance.  It was without a doubt the favorite sport for myself and all my friends.  However, I essentially stopped watching it a few years ago when I found out that the average age of an NFL lineman was 51.  That was it for me.  As a society we supposedly call on young men to sacrifice their lives in defending our country and our liberty.  But for the sake of entertaining me on Sundays?  I just could not justify that.

3.  CTE Occurs Often in High School and College Athletes.  Again, some dads out there will argue that NFL players experience CTE because these guys are superhuman bone-crushing machines.  All of them are a combination of ungodly strong and fast.  Just look at typical NFL combine stats and you'll see what I mean! While it is true that these are incredibly genetically gifted athletes, that simply does not explain a big percentage of the cases of CTE. 

I say that because CTE does not just affect those who play with such elite athletes. Research has shown that CTE is showing up in the brains of those who played only high school and college football.  Yes, you read that right:  high school football is capable of producing CTE:

"A sweeping new study has found evidence that long-term brain damage can occur after playing football for just a few years... in high school. Released Monday by the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, the study found such injuries to six young men who played football in high school, but stopped before college, and did not play professionally.

Researchers from the BU Center examined the brains of 85 deceased former athletes and military veterans to check for traces of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that can be triggered by repetitive mild traumatic brain injuries. Another 18 subjects without a history of mild traumatic brain injury were used as the control group.

Of the 85 brains examined outside of the control group (84 male, 1 female, ranging from 14-98 years old), 68 were found to have CTE, including 34 former professional football players and one semi-professional football player. Fifteen of the 68 brains with CTE were in people who had played only high school football (six) or college football (nine)." [5]

4. CTE Leads to a Shriveled, Discolored, Shrunken BrainConcussion is without a doubt one of the most important movies that I have ever seen.  It is about a young Nigerian forensic pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omahu, who was very troubled by the death of former NFL player Mike Webster.  What troubled him was that Mike Webster was a relatively young man that clearly went mad and yet was not hearing voices or suffering from the typical symptoms that are associated with insanity.  In real life Dr. Omahu became obsessed with the case and even took the brain home to his apartment. [1]

Of course, what he found is now history:  the autopsy revealed a brain that was extremely aged, discolored and shriveled.  (Researchers have since discoverd that this occurs primarily from the infamous tau protein accumulating in brain neurons.) Mike Webster was only 50 at the time of his death and so this startled Dr. Omahu.  Being from Nigeria he began researching football and estimated that Mike Webster, as a lineman, received 70,000 blows to his head in his long 17 year career.

5. It's Not Just Football.  Researchers have now found CTE in former boxers, professional wrestlers and hockey.

6. Amateur Athletes.  CTE has now been found in a former amateur boxer and hockey player.  [5]

7. The Human Brain is Particularly Vulnerable to Head Blows. We are good-sized animals and fairly impressive in many respects.  However, in the movie Concussion, Dr. Omalu point out that many animals have protection built into their brains against head blows - something that we completely lack.  He discusses, for example, a woodpecker that has a tongue that wraps around the brain as a cushion.  But the human brain has no such protection and is one of those creatures that is extremely vulnerable to head blows.  Young men suffering head blows simply have no protections no matter how strong and well-trained - it's that simple.

CONCLUSION:  This subject is near and dear to my heart, because I have little doubt that a significant percentage of men with low testosterone showing up to my site and forum have CTE or concussion-related damage as a root cause.  Simple math shows that a big percentage of young men have played organized football, hockey, boxing or been in the military, all of which have been shown to have a risk for developing CTE.  I have no doubt that sports such as soccer and rugby will also be found to be associated with the condition as concussions and head blows often occur in these sports as well. See my page on Testosterone and Concussions for an interview with an elite Xgames athlete who suffered multiple concussions and how it affected his testosterone levels. 

The tragedy in my opinion is that the NFL has done virtually nothing practical to protect its players.  They are not even willing to have the lineman start in a squatting position which would eliminate a lot of the head blows in that position.  Clearly it is all about the money and revenue has even gone up since the discovery of CTE!  And Dr. Omahu is searching for a pharmacological solution to the issue - a drug that would prevent the buildup of the tau proteins in the brain.

However, the brain suffers blows of up to 100G on the football field and 20-30G blow are quite common.  Can we possibly plug all the holes created by this?  I seriously doubt it.  That is the equivalent of taking someone out to a park and letting a group of thugs beat the crap out of him with clubs and then handing him a pill in the hopes that it will magically cure all the damage. 

In any event, for now we can protect our kids by having them play and get involved more safe sports.