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THURSDAY, Jan. 29, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Another study supports the notion that repeated blows to the head in boxing or the martial arts can damage the brain.
The study, led by Dr. Charles Bernick of the Cleveland Clinic, included professional fighters -- 93 boxers and 131 mixed martial arts experts. They ranged in age from 18 to 44, and were compared against 22 people of similar age with no history of head injuries.
The amount of time the boxers and martial arts combatants had spent as professional fighters ranged from zero to 24 years, with an average of four years, Bernick's team said. The number of professional matches they'd had ranged from zero to 101, with an average of 10 a year.
MRI brain scans and tests of memory, reaction time and other intellectual abilities showed that the fighters who had suffered repeated blows to the head had smaller brain volume and slower processing speeds, compared to non-fighters.
While the study couldn't prove cause-and-effect, the effects were evident at a relatively young age and tied to a higher risk of thinking and memory problems, the Cleveland researchers said.
The more fights, the worse the outcomes for the brain, the study found. Gauging the number of fights a boxer or martial arts expert had engaged in, Bernick's team came up with a "Fight Exposure Score." They found that the higher the score, the lower the volume of certain brain structures, and the poorer the person's performance in "brain processing speed."
The boxers tended to fare worst: They had smaller brain volume and tested as mentally slower compared martial arts fighters, according to the study published online Jan. 29 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
"Perhaps the most obvious explanation is that boxers get hit in the head more," the researchers wrote. "In addition to trying to concuss (i.e. knock out) their opponent, martial arts fighters can utilize other combat skills such as wrestling and jiu jitsu to win their match by submission without causing a concussion," they added.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: British Journal of Sports Medicine, news release, Jan. 29, 2015