Former US football players who sustained concussions are more likely to develop low testosterone levels and erectile dysfunction (ED) in later life, a study showed on Monday.
More than 3,400 former NFL players were asked about their history of concussion symptoms by a team of researchers at Harvard University, and whether they were taking or had been recommended medication for low testosterone or ED.
After controlling for other variables including hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and more, they found that former players in the “very high” concussion symptom group were about twice as likely to report low testosterone and ED compared with the group with the fewest concussion symptoms.
“We’ve found a really strong relationship between reports of concussion symptoms and the likelihood that the guys reported erectile dysfunction, low testosterone,” said Rachel Grashow, lead author of the paper that appeared in JAMA Neurology.
Among all the former players, whose mean age was 53, indicators of low testosterone and ED were about 18 percent and 23 percent respectively.
The authors said that a possible explanation is concussion-associated hypopituitarism, a disorder of the pituitary gland found at the base of the brain that regulates hormone production.
The researchers did not directly measure low testosterone or ED, but instead relied on self-reported indicators that were then used as proxies.
They also initially tried to contact more than 13,000 former players, but only got responses from 25 percent.
“Probably a lot of healthy guys don’t sign up because they don’t think they need to,” Grashow said, but she believed that the most impaired players were also missing, leaving a relatively good data set.
The study built upon prior work in smaller studies exploring hormonal dysfunction in boxers and military personnel who had sustained head injuries, Grashow said.
Nevertheless, the team considered it be “more of a gateway study, with the hope of following up with this population and others to dig into how severity of ED plays a role in this story,” she said.
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