"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

New study shows that CTE is common within the brains of athletes under 30

August 29, 2023 – Researchers found that 4 out of 10 contact sport athletes under the age of 30 suffered from the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The study was published on Monday within the magazine JAMA Neurology and examined the donated brains of 152 athletes aged 13 to 29. The study was conducted by researchers at Boston University, who found that 3 to 4 years of playing time appeared to make the difference between whether or not a player showed signs of CTE. The youngest age of athletes diagnosed with CTE was 17.

The participants within the study played sports reminiscent of football, ice hockey, soccer, rugby and wrestling.

Among athletes, suicide was the leading reason for death, and accidental overdose was the second most typical. The researchers found no differences within the reason for death depending on whether someone was diagnosed with CTE.

Researchers analyzed the brains of 152 people, and 41% of them were diagnosed with CTE. One was diagnosed with CTE, and the remainder were men. Of the 63 people diagnosed with CTE, 60 had signs of mild disease (called stage I or II). Three people had stage III, and people three people included a former National Football League player, a university football player, and knowledgeable rugby player. None of the study participants were diagnosed with probably the most severe stage of the disease, called stage IV. The brains were donated between 2008 and 2022.

Among the donors, 111 were white, 27 were black, one was American Indian or Alaska Native, and 13 were biracial, of one other race reminiscent of Tongan, or their race was not specified. Black donors were more prone to be diagnosed with CTE than other donors. Black brain donors overall tended to be a mean of greater than 1.5 years older than donors of other races, and black donors played football a mean of 4 years longer.

People diagnosed with CTE were on average 4 years older than people with no diagnosis. When evaluating football players alone, those diagnosed with CTE played a mean of three years longer than players with no CTE diagnosis. The woman diagnosed with CTE played college football.

“It seems to be widely accepted now that you can play American football or ice hockey at a very high level and get CTE,” said the director of the university's CTE center, Ann McKee, MD, in a opinion“But we are seeing the beginnings of this disease in young people who were mainly involved in amateur sports.”

Many members of the family reported that the donors had cognitive and neurological symptoms, and these symptoms were common no matter whether researchers found CTE in a donor. Symptoms reminiscent of depression, impulsivity and explosiveness were common among the many donors, and researchers wrote that the findings underscore “that not all contact sport athletes with symptoms have CTE.”

“These results underline the twin role of age and duration of exposure to [repetitive head impacts] in the event of CTE, even in younger people,” the authors summarize.