June 30 - A new study links frequent 'heading' of the ball in soccer to brain damage. Research published in the journal Radiology, says players who head the ball frequently are more likely to suffer brain damage and memory loss than players who focus more on their feet. Elly Park reports
TV AND WEB RESTRICTIONS~** It's an integral part of the world's most popular sport, but may be more dangerous than anyone has realised. A new study finds that soccer players who head the ball frequently are in danger of developing brain damage similar to that in patients with traumatic brain injuries. And more headings result in more damage, says its lead author Dr. Michael Lipton of Yeshiva University in New York. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR MICHAEL LIPTON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF THE GRUSS MAGNETIC RESONANCE RESEARCH CENTER AT ALBERT EINSTEIN COLLEGE OF MEDICINE, SAYING: "As we looked at the amount of heading people did over the prior year and how that was incrementally related to our chance of either finding changes in their brain using MRI that look like brain injury or finding that their function on psychological tests, especially tests of memory, was affected that that chance of finding those two abnormalities went up substantially as the amount of heading went up." Lipton evaluated the brains of 37 amateur soccer players using an advanced form of MRI scanning technique, called Diffusion Tensor Imaging, or DTI. While a regular MRI scan didn't show any abnormalities, DTI showed microscopic changes in the brain's white matter, the wiring center of the brain that connects different brain regions. Oddities here have been linked to cognitive impairment in patients with traumatic brain injuries. With soccer players, this could be seen after a certain number of headings. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR MICHAEL LIPTON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF THE GRUSS MAGNETIC RESONANCE RESEARCH CENTER AT ALBERT EINSTEIN COLLEGE OF MEDICINE, SAYING: "The threshold for finding abnormalities on the MRI scans that we did of the brains was a little over 800 to a little over 1500 headers over the past twelve months. What was particularly interesting was that changes in memory function did not really happen to manifest until we exceeded a threshold that was substantially higher at over 1800 times over the past year." Because of the limited size of his study, Lipton says it's too early to draw conclusions, although he is expanding his research into a larger study. For younger players, however, his findings so far are food for thought. (SOUNDBITE) (English) EUGENIE PEREZ OF MANHATTAN KICKERS FC SAYING: "I think I would just be careful. Like, let's be honest I love soccer, so I don't think I'd stop completely but I think I would just be careful and ask my teammates and everything to play only with the feet and not like with the other parts of your body." (SOUNDBITE) (English) BIANCA AGUILAR OF MANHATTAN KICKERS FC SAYING: "Obviously I care about my safety and my health. But, there are so many other things in soccer besides like heading the ball - like shooting, scoring without heading it - that I would probably continue playing it." And Lipton believes the world's more than 250 million players probably feel the same way. He just wants them to use their heads..before they use their head.