Health scare of the week Football and children’s brains
Just a single season of football can damage the brain development of young players, a new study suggests. Researchers fitted 60 youth and high school football players with a telemetry system to measure the impacts they received to the head. The players were split into two groups—those who received a lot of knocks on the head and those who received relatively few—and were given a resting-state functional brain scan before and after the season. From those scans, the researchers found that in the high-impact group the “pruning” process in the brain—when unneeded synapses are removed to make room for new and important neural connections—had been markedly disrupted. “Pruning is an essential part of brain development,” study co-author Gowtham Krishnan Murugesan, from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, tells ScienceDaily.com. “By getting rid of the synapses that are no longer used, the brain becomes more efficient with aging.” Murugesan recommends that youth teams replace high-impact practice drills with low- or no-impact drills to reduce the number of hits kids receive.