Any reasonably sober football fan now understands that the game is rife with concussions at every level, and that those concussions have a potentially catastrophic effect on the long-term health of the players. But a new study out of Purdue University should give even the parents of Friday Night Lights pause: Researchers found evidence of changes to brain chemistry in players who were never diagnosed with a concussion. While they were at it, they discovered that a single offseason doesn’t appear to be long enough for a brain to recover from impacts to the head.
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Researchers scanned the brains of 25 high school football players and compared them to the brains of teens not involved in contact sports. They found damage to not just the neurons, but also the brains vascular structure and the glial cells that support the neurons. They also documented a “hypermetabolic response” during the preseason that suggested the brain was trying to heal connections that were damaged in previous seasons. “Some of these kids have no outward symptoms,” said one researcher, “but we can see their brains have rewired themselves to skip around the parts affected.”
The study refers to all this as “deviant brain metabolism,” which is actually an awesome name for a high school metal band. Come to think of it, if your own kid plays high school football, you might want to consider buying them a guitar. After all, engineers are still debating how ( or even if) a football helmet can be designed to decrease concussions. But ear plug technology is top notch.