Former professional football players who have experienced concussion symptoms, including loss of consciousness, disorientation or nausea after a head injury, are more likely to report low testosterone and erectile dysfunction (ED); so according to research published Aug. 26 in JAMA Neurology. The research base on a survey of more than 3,400 former NFL players representing the largest study cohort of former professional football players to date was conducted by investigators at the Harvard T.H.
Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School as part of the ongoing Football Players Health Study at Harvard University, a research program that encompasses a constellation of studies design to evaluate various aspects of players’ health across their lifespans. The researchers caution that their findings are observational base on self report concussion symptoms and indirect measures of ED and low testosterone.
Effect link of concussion
The results do not prove a cause effect link between concussion and ED; nor do they explain exactly how head trauma might precipitate the onset of ED, the investigators noted. However, the findings do reveal an intriguing and powerful link between history of concussions; also hormonal and sexual dysfunction; regardless of player age.
Notably, the ED risk persisted even when researchers account for other possible causes such as diabetes; heart disease or sleep apnea, for example. Taken together, these findings warrant further study to tease out the precise mechanism behind it. One possible explanation, the research team said, could be injury to the brain’s pituitary gland; that sparks a cascade of hormonal changes culminating in diminished testosterone and ED.
This biological mechanism has emerged as a plausible explanation in earlier studies that echo the current findings, such as reports of higher ED prevalence and neurohormonal dysfunction among people with head trauma and traumatic brain injury; including military veterans and civilians with head injuries. The new findings also suggest that sleep apnea and use of prescription pain medication contribute to low testosterone and ED. It remains unclear whether they do so independently, as consequences of head injury or both, the researchers said.
Critical marker of health
Sexual function is not only a critical marker of overall health; but also central to overall well being, the researchers note. Understanding the mechanisms behind the possible downstream effects of head injury, they said; can inform treatments and preventive strategies. “Former players with ED may be relieved to know that concussions sustained during their NFL careers may be contributing to a condition that is both common and treatable,” said study lead author Rachel Grashow, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Researcher found the same association of concussions with ED among both younger and older men in the study; also they find the same risk of ED among men who had last played twenty years ago,” said study senior author Andrea Roberts; a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “These findings suggest that increased risk of ED following head injury may occur at relatively young ages and may linger for decades thereafter.”
“ED is a fact of life for many men,” said Herman Taylor, director of player engagement; also education and director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine. “Anyone with symptoms should seek clinical attention and thorough evaluation, particularly since ED can be fueled by cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. The good news is that this is a treatable condition.”