Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of the No Holds Barred international podcast, the publisher of the No Holds Barred blog, and a senior contributing editor at the ADCC News.

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Saturday, December 08, 2012

No Holds Barred: Dr. Ann McKee on Concussions, CTE, and Contact Sports 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman speaks with Dr. Ann McKee of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.

A study was published Monday by Boston University School of Medicine researchers, including Dr. McKee, about the effects of head injuries on 85 deceased brain donors, most of whom had been professional athletes in contact sports.

We spoke with Dr. McKee about the findings of this study on Friday by Skype.

"This is a study of 85 individuals who all had a history of repetitive, what we call mild brain traumas, meaning by that concussion and sub-concussive injuries, so injury that didn't even rise to the level of a concussion," said Dr. McKee in this interview. "Most of the individuals studied were football players, but there were also hockey players, boxers, as well as military veterans, most of which had had some athletic exposure. In this study, we looked for the effects of this repetitive mild brain trauma."

The key finding of this study was, "We found in 80 percent that they had a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)."

CTE is a brain disease associated with dementia, impairment and loss of cognition, and related physical and mental problems.

A study with this size of a sample, of course, could not definitively establish the exact relationship between head trauma, concussions, and CTE, and there are also genetic factors involved which remain to be studied. But the evidence is moving in a direction which indicates that at least, repetitive head injuries greatly increase the risk of CTE.

While much more research still must be done, and CTE can at this time only be diagnosed through autopsies, the existing research poses a question, especially for parents of children who are participating or considering participating in contact sports like football, hockey, boxing, or MMA: Should parents let their children participate in these sports, and if so, what special safeguards are needed for children in them?

Again, while more research needs to be done, Dr. McKee acknowledged this problem today, advising parents, with caution, "Let's play sports that don't involve hitting your head."

We also discussed how this ongoing research may affect contact and combat sports in years to come, what we know and don't know about head trauma in combat sports with no striking like wrestling and grappling, how interested people can assist this research, and much more.

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