LONDON (CBS) — Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly referred to as CTE, is a disastrous brain disease that is currently plaguing the National Football League, but a study shows that soccer is not impervious to CTE.
CTE stems from repetitive blows to the head, lending it to be a natural concern for soccer. It’s not as violent a sport as football, but the regularity of heading sewn into the fabric of the game gives the sport a reason for trepidation going forward.
The study, led by Dr. Helen Ling and Dr. Huw R. Morris, both of the University College London Institute of Neurology, looked at 14 deceased soccer players, 12 of which died due to advanced dementia.
“This is the first time CTE has been confirmed in a group of retired (soccer players),” said Ling. “They all sustained minor blows to the head thousands of times.”
Doctors are still learning about CTE and its effects.
“All of the players whose brain autopsies showed signs of CTE also had Alzheimer’s pathology, but the relationship between the two diseases remains unclear,” Ling said. “Both diseases involve a buildup of an insoluble form of tau protein in the brain. However, in CTE, tau tends to accumulate around blood vessels and at the depths of the sulci — the grooves in the brain’s surface — which helps to differentiate CTE from Alzheimer’s pathology under the microscope.”
Of course, this study isn’t meant to be conclusive of all soccer players. They chose from those who died due to traumatic brain diseases, but it does show that CTE is a real concern in the soccer community.
“I emphasize this is a very small selection of players,” Morris said. “And these are people with a very high amount of playing and exposure.”
Football continues to attempt to make an inherently dangerous game more safe, and soccer may look to do the same to protect its players in the future. There’s been a movement to ban heading in youth soccer games and practice until kids are 13.
“I think it points out again that this is an equal-opportunity disease,” said Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center. “It just depends on repetitive head impacts.”