In 2018, the University of Sydney and the Australian health authorities decided to found the Australian Sports Brain Bank (ASBB), an institution dedicated to study the brains that athletes donate after their death of the country, looking for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurological pathology whose accurate detection is only possible after the end of life. so pick it up The Newspaper of Spain.
The worldwide increase in research studying the relationship between small blows to the head repeated over time and neurodegenerative diseases encouraged the creation of this body. In particular, a study published in 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association did, whose dramatic conclusion was the finding of brain injuries in 110 of 111 former football players of the NFL analyzed.
Australia decided to expand the range to practitioners of more than contact sportsamong which are what they call four 'football codes': European football or soccer, Australian football and rugby in its 'league' and 'union' modalities. Also others like basketball or boxing.
all but one
Four years after its foundation, the ASBB has published the conclusions of the first 21 brains analyzed in depth: "All donors except one had some form of neurodegeneration and 13 of them presented two or more neurodegenerative pathologies. The most frequent was ETC, present in 12 of the donors. Six of those 12 and one of the nine without CTE died from suicide".
Yes, the quotes take your breath away. Know what died on average at 48 years it makes it even more so.
"CTE has been identified in the brains of older people who had long professional careers, but also in younger people, in non-professional athletes and in other recent ones who have developed their careers with the most modern concussion protocols," warn the researchers. researchers Catherine M. Suter, Andrew J. Affleck, Maggie Lee, Alan J. Pearce, Linda E. Iles, and Michael E. Buckland in their report.
Now, what exactly is the ETC? "Is he end result of having suffered throughout life, and especially during childhood, minor head injuries. It is not the result of having a strong blow, but of many small ones. This is a risk factor for developing neurodegenerative diseases," explains Jesús Porta, vice president of the Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN).
This pathology, explained in a plain way, reduces neural reserves of the brain, the result of these blows continued over time. In this way, when a degenerative disease attacks the brain, it has less capacity to resist, just as a military garrison has less capacity to face its enemy attack the less troops it has.
"If you have a Alzheimer'sthe disease is going to manifest before, because the brain has less resistance", exemplifies Porta, who points out that these continued trauma cannot be considered a "cause" of the disease"because there are people who have suffered them and have not developed pathologies", but that both in American football and in boxing can be considered as "a risk factor", according to the different investigations carried out so far.
Already in the last decades of the 20th century, this casuistry was explored, mainly associated with boxers and like Muhammad Ali, sick with parkinsonism, as a great media exponent. The study of 111 NFL players was what definitely raised awareness and alarm about head injuries related to contact sports.
Does it also happen in football, the most practiced sport in Spain and in the world? "There is no evidence, but there are data that suggest that there may be a relationship", replies the vice president of the SEN.
“Our research should encourage clinicians and policymakers to develop measures that further mitigate the risk of head injuries due to repetition related to sports”, warn the signatories of the ASBB report in this regard.
In recent times, advances are being seen in this regard, with protocols in professional football that more protect footballers who have been stunned by blows to the head. Many voices are already calling for the introduction of temporary substitutions in these cases, that allow a more adequate exploration of the player before his return to the field of play.
"The position of the SEN has been to create a committee to study the importance it can have in football and give a series of recommendations, which is what has been done in England, such as trying to prevent children from having head injuries and that children under 12 years of age do not head or do so in a very punctual way", says Porta, who indicates that coaches report a gradual reduction in headers in school football.
Spanish neurologists are committed to developing exhaustive studies in our country such as those of Australia or USAbut they recognize that they run into resistance from athletes ("it's a subject they don't want to go into") and a lack of institutional involvement.
Because beyond neurodegenerative diseases, a matter already of extreme gravitythe study carried out in Australia yields another gloomy conclusion, already mentioned in this report: "Six of the donors with ETC and one of the nine without ETC committed suicide".
"With such a small sample [21 casos] We should not draw conclusions, although it seems that cognitive impairment may predispose them to make suicide attempts, it is possible that this is the explanation. In any case, they are approaches that are based on biological plausibility rather than on a study carried out to analyze it, but it is a striking fact that should be explained," adds Porta.