How safe are your children playing football?
As new research continues looking into the effects of repeated head blows on the gridiron, concussions and a new fear of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, CTE, is leaving some parents questioning if it’s still just a game or if could cost your child’s life.
Researchers say we’ve learned more about the brain and its injuries these past ten years than ever before in the history of mankind, but even then, they say we’re still only scratching the surface on what it means.
Less than one year ago, UIL, which regulates high school sports in Texas, started a concussion registry to proactively measure the effects on young minds.
All this fear has left one Midway High School mother concerned, and now she’s taking matters into her own hands. She’s colliding the worlds of football, Eastern Chinese medicine and Western medicine to help keep her son’s brain health as he navigates his routes.
“I have a son who is now 16, who, a few years ago, was just pleading with me to let him play tackle football,” Kristen Horner Warren, a Midway High School mom says.
Warren says her son begged for the chance to take part in the excitement, the energy, the Friday night lights.
“I had said no for a long, long time because I was concerned about his safety,” Warren says.
Countless headlines about the dangers of concussions and headblows haunted this mother, who dedicates her life to keeping people healthy.
“I’ve been in private practice as a licensed acupuncturist and nutritionist and herbalist for about 14 years,” owner of Live Oak Acupuncture and Wellness Center in Woodway says. “My nine-to-five job is taking care of people that have pain and so a lot of the middle-aged and older men that I see in my practice have knee and shoulder and back and neck pain but they can be traced back to playing high school football.”
As many parents know, no matter what your concerns are, it’s not about what you want.
“He was able to persuade me and we got him where the best helmet that we could and you know just sort of prayed for his safety on the field,” Warren says.
Her son Luke plays quarterback for the JV Midway Panthers. This mother is taking matters into her own hands, turning to more than just prayer.
“What I have been doing recently is a lot of research related to nutrition and supplements and botanical medicine and acupuncture and how those things might help to mitigate some of the risks associated with both the sub concussive head blows that happen in football,” Warren says. “What I’m trying to do was give the brain the nutrition that it needs.”
She’s starting off with a series of natural supplements, modeled after research on former NFL players.
“Definitely, fish oil is a supplement that I think is really important for just brain health in general, then botanical medicines like ginkgo. Ginkgo is an herb that has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years for brain function specifically,” Warren explains. “One of the other things that he’s taking is curcumin, which is derived from the spice Tumeric and research actually indicates that helps to protect the function of the blood brain barrier.”
Warren says she’s noticed changes in her son.
“We know that when he’s not keeping up with taking his supplements, his mood is not as good, he tends to be a lot grouchier, he doesn’t sleep as well, he just doesn’t focus as easily,” Warren describes.
She’s also placing a big emphasis on acupuncture.
“As far as acupuncture is concerned, the U.S. military has actually pioneered the use of acupuncture for the treatment of concussions,” Warren says. “Basically acupuncture takes your body’s own capacity to heal itself and just sort of strengthens and focuses it.”
Warren says she worked directly with Dr. Richard Niemtzow in 2014 to complete a certification in the Battlefield Acupuncture protocol.
“It’s definitely out of the ordinary but that’s never a bad thing,” her son Luke says. “Acupuncture is pretty painless and you don’t really feel anything you just relax and just kind of chill out.”
How well does the Eastern approach line up to Western research?
We took the theory to brain researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas Center for Brain Health.
“Is there a great risk in these [Eastern] methods? Not necessarily. Is there a lot of scientifically validated research of these methods? No. Not currently,” PhD Lori Cook says.
Cook is the director of clinical research for the Center for Brain Health. She’s studied brain injuries for 17 years, specializing in kids and teens brain injury recovery.
“I appreciate I would say she’s right in being proactive, now in terms of her specific approach, you know, we don’t have a lot of evidence to say yes, this is the protocol you should follow,” Cook said.
She explains, it’s not to say the methods aren’t working.
“One supplement that researchers are taking a close look at is DHA [fish oil], you know this is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain,” Cook says. “There is some promising work initially done in animals and now in student athletes, to see how it potentially impacts the brain, especially for those who are exposed to repetitive hits.”
“[TCU researchers] really saw some promising evidence that maybe, [the athletes] weren’t recurring the same neural damage as their counterparts who were not taking it,” Cook explains.
It’s not a scientific touchdown yet, but at the Brain Center, they know their research games is in the first quarter.
“We’ve learned so much about ways of certain identification and management of concussion, really still making strides there, but what we don’t know a lot about yet, how we really enhance prevention or even the idea of resilience, how can we build a stronger brain to begin with?” Cook said.
They’re strides Warren, as a mother, is not waiting for research to prove.
“We want to support him in a way that keeps him as safe as possible,” Warren says. “I’m not an advocate of people abandoning conventional medical care. What I’m doing is just my best guess at how we can provide nutrition to the brain of growing teenagers to help to keep them as healthy as possible.”
Warren however, wants to make it clear she’s not advocating taking your child out of football.
“Football is really a central part of our family’s life, I’m really glad for my son to participate in it,” Warren says.
Luke just turned 16. He started the supplements when he was a freshman in high school. So far in his football career, he has never had a diagnosed concussion.