The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl for the third time in five years. In an exciting NFL final that went to overtime, quarterback Mahomes' team beat the San Francisco 49ers. Around 800 million people around the world witnessed this extraordinary spectacle, which has also enjoyed increasing popularity in Germany for years.

But football has a dark (health) side: chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE for short. The risk of CTE in football players is discussed again and again. But what is behind the disease?

How does CTE occur?

CTE is triggered by repeated, even minor, blows and impacts to the head. This happens in American football, ice hockey or boxing. The risk of CTE is also discussed in relation to football.

Scientist Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim recently examined it from a biomedical perspective. She clearly explains the development of CTE in a short video that is available at instagramThe page was shared for the program.

(Not shown? Here go to video on Instagram)

In short: blows to the head cause problems with the tau proteins in nerve cells. “You can think of tau proteins as protective barriers to the flow of information,” says scientist Nguyen-Kim. When someone hits or hits the head, tau proteins can clump together and form protein clumps that float in the brain. “So the barriers to the flow of information basically collapse and are on the other side of the street and that creates a traffic jam in the brain.”

This buildup of tau is called tauopathy. It is also the cause of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. CTE, like Alzheimer's, is a form of dementia.

It is still unclear why a large number of traumatic events can lead to CTE in some athletes, while for others only a few injuries are enough. Genetic factors may influence different resistances, but immunological and inflammatory influences are also discussed.

What are the symptoms of CTE?

CTE usually appears years or decades after the end of a sporting career, but sometimes also affects younger athletes in their 20s and 30s. Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the changes occurring in the brain. High German Alzheimer Society Four stages can be distinguished:

In stage 1 There are usually headaches, reduced attention and concentration as well as memory problems and difficulties in organizing, planning and making decisions. Some of those affected also experience aggression, depressed moods, and emotional outbursts.

In stage 2 The focus is on depression, mood swings, headaches and memory problems. Some of those affected develop symptoms of a muscle disease. It can also cause limited emotional control, as well as problems with attention and concentration.

Stage 3 It is characterized by memory disorders and problems with organization and planning, deterioration of emotional control and problems with attention and concentration. Depressive moods or mood changes, alterations in visuospatial functions and aggressive behaviors also often appear.

In stage 4 In all cases, dementia develops with pronounced memory impairments, problems with organization, planning and decision-making, and reduced attention and concentration. Disorders of language, emotional control and visuospatial functions are also generally present, as well as aggressive behavior, paranoia, depressed moods and problems walking.

Thomas also suffered from numerous symptoms, including memory loss, paranoia and other erratic behavior, his mother said. “His mood changed and at times he isolated himself. He said, 'Mom, I don't know what's wrong with my body. I have to recover. “I don't feel like myself anymore.”

What can those affected do if CTE is suspected?

There is still no specific treatment option for suspected CTE. However, at least some symptoms can be relieved. The German Alzheimer's Society recommends four points.

  • Get enough sleep: It ensures that tau fragments are transported through the brain's drainage system, which is active mainly at night.
  • Body training: Promotes blood circulation in the brain.
  • Behavioral therapy techniques. : It can be used to improve emotional control and treat depressive moods.
  • Psychoeducational procedures: It can help those affected and their families better cope with the changes in cognitive performance and behavior associated with CTE.

How common is CTE?

The frequency of CTE is not known exactly. But Dear Let's assume that about 15 percent of all athletes who have played contact sports during their lifetime have been diagnosed with CTE.

CTE can only be confirmed with certainty after death, through a brain autopsy. It is not possible in living people because tau proteins and even clumps are too small to detect by scanning.

also one Boston University study of 2017 paints a terrifying picture: CTE was detected in 110 of 111 deceased NFL professionals. NFL player Dez Bryant wrote on Instagram about Thomas’ death: “DT88 my heart is heavy brother. Many of us live with CTE.” Athletes who experience symptoms should not be afraid to talk about it.

This is how the NFL reacts

The NFL reacted and banned dangerous maneuvers as part of the helmet rule. However, collisions, falls and, therefore, bumps and blows to the head are still common. That's why it has existed since 2013. the so-called concussion protocol . In short, so-called observers observe the game and intervene if head injuries are suspected. Affected players will be removed from the game, tested and, if necessary, not allowed to return to the field. More research is continuing and there are regulations establishing when they can be used again. However, there were apparently loopholes. In 2022 it was tightened again.