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Health

Soccer Brains

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Soccer may be bad for your brain. That’s the verdict from researchers at the University of Helsinki who recently made magnetic resonance images of the brains of 15 male soccer players and 17 male American football players--all of whom had trained more than five times a week for many years. The researchers found that 11 of the soccer players had between 1 and 39 tiny spots on the brain that appeared brighter on the images (see arrow). The spots may represent scar tissue or fluid-filled spaces that form when brain tissue breaks down following head trauma. In elderly and middle-aged people, the spots have been associated with a slight cognitive decline, but the Finnish researchers don’t know what the long-term consequences are for these players, all of whom were young adults. Seven of the football players had an average of 7 spots, while only 5 of 20 nonathletes had them. Radiologist Taina Autti thinks that the higher incidence among soccer players results from the players’ tendency to hit the ball with their heads. We also believe that they hit their heads together more often, says Autti. In addition, American football players use helmets.

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