Repetitive heading of the ball in soccer has been found to damage the brain’s microstructure and impair cognitive performance. Previous research has suggested that women face more adverse effects of heading compared to men, but previous studies have not directly examined the issue in the context of cognitive function. Albert Einstein College of Medicine researchers led by Michael Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., and Kenny Q. Ye, Ph.D., studied one aspect of cognition—short-term learning ability—in 86 soccer players. The 39 women and 47 men in the study had an average age of 25 and were part of the Einstein Soccer Study, an ongoing study examining the impact of heading on brain structure and function in adult amateur soccer players. The participants filled out a questionnaire to determine the number of times they had headed the ball in the previous 12 months. Then, every day for two weeks, participants performed learning-ability tests that assessed their short-term (“working”) memory.
The adverse effect of repetitive heading on learning was specific to women: For them, but not for the men, a higher number of headings over the previous year correlated with less improvement on the daily memory test over the 2-week period—even though the women overall had experienced fewer headings and performed better on the memory test than men. The results indicate that women are disproportionately sensitive to repetitive heading’s impact on brain function. The study was published online on August 25 in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.
Dr. Lipton is professor of radiology and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, associate professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience, and associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at Einstein and director of MRI services at Montefiore Health System. Dr. Ye is professor of epidemiology & population health and of systems & computational biology at Einstein.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 02, 2022