A recent study published in The Lancet Public Health journal has found that elite male soccer players in Sweden are 1.5 times more likely to develop dementia than the general population.
The researchers compared 6,007 male soccer players who had played in the Swedish top division from 1924 to 2019 with 56,168 adults matched according to sex, age, and region of residence.
They found that soccer players had a risk of dementia 1.5 times higher than that non-soccer players.
Specifically, 9% (537 out of 6,007) of soccer players were diagnosed with neurodegenerative disease, compared to 6% (3,485 out of 56,168) of the control group.
The risk of d dementia was 1.5 times higher for outfield players than non-players, but not much higher for goalkeepers compared to non-players.
In a direct comparison, outfield players had a risk of dementia 1.4 times higher than that goalkeepers.
It’s hypothesized that repetitive mild head trauma sustained through heading the ball is the reason why soccer players are at increased risk.
However, the study also found that the overall mortality rate was slightly lower among soccer players than among non-players.
This suggests that their overall health was better than the general population, likely due to their physical fitness from frequently playing soccer.
Physical activity is associated with a lower risk of dementia, so it’s possible that the potential risks from head impacts are being offset by good physical fitness.
The researchers caution that although 9% of soccer players and 6% of non-players were diagnosed with dementia during their study, most participants were still alive at the end of data collection.
Therefore, the lifetime risks of developing dementia for both groups are likely to be higher.
It’s important to note that the study only looked at male elite soccer players from Sweden, so its generalizability to other populations, such as female soccer players or non-elite players, is uncertain.
Additionally, most of the players in the study who were old enough to have developed dementia played soccer during the mid-20th century.
Since then, soccer has changed in many ways that may impact the risk of dementia.
For example, switching to synthetic balls, more rigorous training, and better equipment may have reduced the risk, while more intense training and play from a young age may increase the risk.
If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and scientists find a possible way to reverse Alzheimer’s disease.
For more information about nutrition and dementia, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce the risk of dementia, and coffee may help lower your risk of stroke and dementia.
The study was conducted by Peter Ueda et al from Karolinska Institutet.
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