Soccer players who use their heads to butt the ball are at high risk for brain
injury and cognitive impairment, according to researchers at Yeshiva
University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center
in New York.
Using advanced imaging techniques and cognitive tests, they
used diffusion tensor imaging, an advanced MRI-based imaging technique, on 38
amateur soccer players with an average age of 30.8 years who had all played the
sport since childhood. Each was asked to recall the number of times they
“headed” the ball during the past year – heading is when players hit or field
the soccer ball with their head.
Researchers ranked the players based on
heading frequency and then compared the brain images of the most frequent
headers with those of the remaining players.
They found that frequent
headers showed brain injury similar to that seen in patients with concussion,
also known as mild traumatic brain injury.
Presenting their findings
recently at the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago, they said the
findings were especially worrisome since soccer is the world’s most popular
sport and is increasingly popular in the US, especially among
Of the 18 million Americans who play soccer, 78 percent are
under the age of 18. Soccer balls are known to travel at speeds as high as 55
kilometers per hour during recreational play and more than twice that during
“Our goal was to determine if there is a threshold
level for heading frequency that, when surpassed, resulted in detectable brain
injury,” said lead author Dr, Michael Lipton, director of Einstein’s Gruss
Magnetic Resonance Research Center. Further analysis revealed a threshold level
of 1,000 to 1,500 heads per year; once players in the study exceeded that
number, researchers observed significant injury.
“Heading a soccer ball
is not an impact of a magnitude that will lacerate nerve fibers in the brain,”
Lipton said. “But repetitive heading may set off a cascade of responses that can
lead to degeneration of brain cells.”FASTING & EXERCISE MAY REDUCE
Intermittent fasting and vigorous exercise on a regular basis may
reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative
diseases, according to an expert on aging from the US National Institutes of
Speaking at Bar-Ilan University, where he received the Dr. Tovi
Comet-Walerstein Science Award from the BIU’s Cancer, AIDS and Immunology
Research (CAIR) Institute, Dr. Mark Mattson said that intermittent fasting – not
necessary completely, but limiting intake to 500 calories two days per week –
has very good effects on the brain in animal models.
“We found that if we
reduce the energy intake of rats and mice in models of Alzheimer’s and
Parkinson’s that nerve cells would be more resistant to becoming dysfunctional
and degenerating so that, essentially, we could slow down the disease process by
reducing energy intake,” he said. “Conversely, if we put mouse models of
Alzheimer’s disease on a high energy diet of high fat and fructose [corn syrup],
this would accelerate the disease process,” he added.
energy restriction placed on the animals consisted of either fasting twice a
week with the addition of one small meal at the end of the fasting day, or
calorie restriction in which they were given 30% fewer calories than the amount
required by their bodies.
Mattson is now translating his work on dietary
energy intake into human terms.
“We don’t know for sure yet, but I would
predict that the risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s would be decreased if a
person fasts longterm and also exercises, particularly in middle age,” said
Mattson. “This is more of a preventative strategy than a treatment,” he
Once patients become symptomatic with these neurodegenerative
diseases, Mattson explained, much damage has already occurred. He thinks it may
one day be possible to determine whether a patient is likely to develop
Alzheimer’s and start intervention early.
“We’re also interested in
finding out if there are ways to mimic the effects of dietary energy restriction
or exercise with drugs or perhaps natural products like chemicals in plants,
fruits and vegetables,” he said.
Refuting conventional wisdom, he said
fasting is also recommended for type 2 diabetics.
“The reason doctors
will say to eat many small meals is so that you don’t get big spikes [in sugar
levels], but eating many small meals is bad because it will increase insulin
In a human study we looked at insulin sensitivity and the
alternate-day fasting diet very clearly increased insulin sensitivity,” he says,
adding that fasting improves glucose regulation and the cardiovascular
NEW CLUES TO OSTEOARTHRITIS
The degenerative joint disease of
osteoarthritis (OA), which affects millions around the world, is very
debilitating and is more common as people age. Now, researchers at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem’s faculty of dental medicine and the US National
Institutes of Health have moved a step closer to a better understanding of the
biological mechanism involved in the onset of OA.
The disease causes the
matrix structure comprising cartilage in the joints to be significantly
diminished, inflicting severe frictional pain and restricting joint
One reason for this phenomenon is reduced matrix production and
SirT1 is a nuclear enzyme that regulates the expression
of many genes through alterations in the structure of chromatin, which is a
combination of DNA and other proteins that make up the contents of the cell
nucleus. In laboratory work carried out at HU’s laboratory of cartilage biology,
scientists headed by Dr.
Mona Dvir-Ginzberg showed that SirT1 positively
regulates the expression of many cartilage-tissue components.
published in the Arthritis and Rheumatism
journal, showed that when there is
joint inflammation, SirT1 degenerates and is inactivated, thereby accelerating
joint destruction through altered gene expression.
events will enable the design of drug targets to serve as potential therapies
that may retard or reverse OA by boosting SirT1 production. Additionally,
testing of SirT1 levels could serve as an early indicator for OA susceptibility
and thus serve as a signal for starting treatment in time.
combined strategy for diagnosis and treatment based on these data could provide
an efficient alternative for joint replacement surgery and enable susceptible
individuals to experience a better quality of life for years to come,” said
GENES & SUICIDE
A new study from Toronto’s Center for
Addiction and Mental Health has found evidence that a specific gene is linked to
suicidal behavior, adding to our knowledge of the many complex causes of
This research may help doctors one day target the gene in
prevention efforts. In the past, studies have implicated the gene for
brainderived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is involved in nervous system
development, in suicidal behavior.
After pooling results from 11 previous
studies and adding their own study data involving schizophrenics, the Canadian
scientists confirmed that among people with a psychiatric diagnosis, those with
the methionine variation of the gene had a higher risk of suicidal behavior
compared to those with the valine variation. The review, published in the
International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, included data from 3,352
people, of whom 1,202 had a history of suicidal behavior.
may lead to the testing and development of treatments that target this gene in
order to help prevent suicide,” said Dr. James Kennedy, director of neuroscience
research. “In the future, if other researchers can replicate and extend our
findings, genetic testing may be possible to help identify people at increased
risk for suicide.”
As the low-functioning BDNF variation is a risk factor
for suicidal behavior, it may also be possible to develop a compound to increase
the factor’s functioning, Kennedy suggested.
“Our findings provide a
small piece of the puzzle on what causes suicidal behavior. When assessing a
person’s suicide risk, it’s also important to consider environmental risk
factors, such as early childhood or recent trauma, the use of addictive drugs or
medications and other factors,” he said.