Reversing brain damage in former NFL players: implications for traumatic brain injury and substance abuse rehabilitation

J Psychoactive Drugs. 2011 Jan-Mar;43(1):1-5. doi: 10.1080/02791072.2011.566489.


Brain injuries are common in professional American football players. Finding effective rehabilitation strategies can have widespread implications not only for retired players but also for patients with traumatic brain injury and substance abuse problems. An open label pragmatic clinical intervention was conducted in an outpatient neuropsychiatric clinic with 30 retired NFL players who demonstrated brain damage and cognitive impairment. The study included weight loss (if appropriate); fish oil (5.6 grams a day); a high-potency multiple vitamin; and a formulated brain enhancement supplement that included nutrients to enhance blood flow (ginkgo and vinpocetine), acetylcholine (acetyl-l-carnitine and huperzine A), and antioxidant activity (alpha-lipoic acid and n-acetyl-cysteine). The trial average was six months. Outcome measures were Microcog Assessment of Cognitive Functioning and brain SPECT imaging. In the retest situation, corrected for practice effect, there were statistically significant increases in scores of attention, memory, reasoning, information processing speed and accuracy on the Microcog. The brain SPECT scans, as a group, showed increased brain perfusion, especially in the prefrontal cortex, parietal lobes, occipital lobes, anterior cingulate gyrus and cerebellum. This study demonstrates that cognitive and cerebral blood flow improvements are possible in this group with multiple interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / rehabilitation
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / therapy*
  • Brain Injuries / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Brain Injuries / therapy*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Cognition Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Diet
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Football / injuries*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Substance-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon
  • Weight Loss