Unless you have been living under a rock, any true football fan has heard of the medical term CTE. CTE stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. It has gained prominence recently with a study showing that virtually all ex-NFL players brains tested had the disease. A study published in July of this year revealed that 110 of 111 players tested showed various levels of the disease.
Could the prominence of CTE in NFL football players be the end of football as we know it? I do believe that CTE is a serious health issue that needs to be investigated further. I would like to give you a little perspective, and tell everyone to not give up hope yet. There is more to this story and I hope I can share some of my insight with all of you.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF CTE
To give you some context, consider the most common signs and symptoms of CTE: Most common sign is cognitive impairment, which is difficulty thinking clearly. To be a true CTE symptom, it has to be a symptom that lasts beyond 48-72 hours after first being noticed; short term memory loss, impulsive behaviour, emotionally unstable, substance abuse increases, and most importantly suicidal thoughts. As you can quickly figure out, all of these symptoms are quite scary. The issue presently is how to diagnose CTE early enough to alleviate long term complications.
DIAGNOSIS OF CTE
Here is where the issue lies with CTE and contact sports like football. CTE presently is the degeneration of brain tissues and the presence of a protein called Tau along with other proteins. The only way that CTE can be confirmed as a diagnosis is by detection of these markers upon performing an autopsy. This iwill have to change to make it a disease that can be managed. Without earlier detection, there is no hope of keeping the condition in check at the earliest possible stages.
Personally, the articles and studies that I have read now tend to compare CTE to Alzheimers with regard to the importance of early detection. This makes great sense, because Alzheimers does not have one true test that is definitive, and I doubt that CTE will either. The key will be educating all parties that will be involved to note symptoms and act appropriately. Defining what those appropriate actions will be the key, and needs buy in from all stakeholders.
Alzheimers’ sufferers have a few medications available in the last number of years that have the ability to greatly slow the disease’s progression. The key is early detection, and staringt the patient on the medication as soon as possible. It looks like CTE may fall into the same category where early diagnosis will be paramount. That’s lacking right now.
IS CTE FROM REPEATED HEAD TRAUMA ALONE?
A lot of research is needed here with regards to CTE and playing football. Everyone knows that repeated blows to the head will damage anyone. The odds of this happening in a bone-crunching sport like the NFL is quite a bit higher. I want to point out the fact that CTE happens in other cases where head trauma is not an issue. Military veterans, chronic epileptics, and even domestic abuse victims are also people that have shown CTE without the repeated physical head trauma. This fact leads me to think that the best test is going to have to be detecting the TAU protein and then developing a treatment to “deactivate it”.
UNLOCKING THE SECRETS OF TAU
Presently the TAU protein destruction method is being explored in treating Alzheimers with relatively good success. The treatments used could easily apply to athletes and others without any issues. I think that there should be a pilot project with some current and ex-players and the drug manufacturers to see if there is symptom alleviation.
Believe it or not, the basic substance of curcumin (isolated from tumeric) is among substances under study. If this turns out to be as good as initial tests have shown, then off to the grocery store we go for this. This substance has so far been shown to neutralize the TAU protein and allow the body to clear it out. The keys that are being explored is detection of the disease (CTE or Alzheimers) and then starting treatment. One study is presently looking at starting some athletes on this before they show any signs. The issue with this theory centers on the baseline examined.
With the recent story of former Patriot Aaron Hernandez having been diagnosed with stage 3 CTE after his death, the CTE debate rages on. I caution people to look back at what I mentioned previously in this article. With only one diagnosed concussion in his career, was football the only source of his troubles? Did his former gang activities, checkered past, or even prison time served have any bearing on his CTE development? We have to answer these questions so we can stem this tide.
I hope I have demonstrated the threat of head trauma on NFL players. We all have to be more conscious of it and it’s effects. Minimizing illegal hits, late hits and unnecessary hits by players is definitely a good start. As I have said, I believe there is more to the issue and that is what we have to figure out and fast. Players should stop playing football unless only as a personal choice. With further updates in safety and rules, I believe football can be as safe as any other sport. We need to make sure that head injuries are taken very seriously, and treated as such. It should have started many years ago, but hindsight is always 20-20.