Rugby, concussion research

Western researchers studied rugby players’ brains and found significant chemical changes, even in those who were not concussed.

Robert Bartha, professor of medical biophysics, and PhD candidate Amy Schranz studied the brain metabolism within the female varsity rugby team at Western to determine the effects of a concussion.

“It’s not looking at the anatomy of the brain, it’s looking at the chemistry of the brain,” says Bartha.

They followed up with the athletes at multiple times within the season, focusing more on athletes at the start of their season and another follow-up at the end. The athletes underwent brain scans to measure their chemical levels. There was a reduction in one of the brain chemicals, glutamine, in athletes who did not have concussions.

The changes occurred even in those who had a normal season.

Glutamine is an amino acid and helps create one of the brain’s most important neurotransmitter. However, the concussed athletes produced it in lower quantities.

They had a 50 per cent drop of glutamine, whereas athletes who were not concussed had a 20 per cent drop at the end of the season.

Bartha said that the concussion may cause a shift in the way chemicals are produced, leading to the discrepancies.

Female players were chosen because they are not studied nearly as much as males, and there are many questions about whether both sexes react the same way to a concussion. The rugby team was chosen because its athletes suffer concussions at a high frequency.

Bartha emphasised the importance of expanding research that focuses on athletes and the chemical reactions within their brains.

“It would be fantastic to expand this research to female hockey players and female athletes in other sports,” he said.

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