The Centers for Disease Control has released an alarming new report about traumatic brain injuries: They've sky-rocketed by nearly 62 percent over the past decade in young people because of sports and recreational activities.
And each year, traumatic brain injuries account for 1.7 million deaths, hospitalizations and emergency room visits. It has become a serious public health issue.
Our very own Bill Rancic visited a world-renowned brain research center to find out more about head injury treatment.
Dr. Daniel Amen is a pioneering brain expert.
"Your brain is soft, about the consistency of soft butter, and it's housed in a really hard skull that has very sharp, boney ridges," he explained. "A new study from Purdue found that kids who play football, because they are getting hit in the head repeatedly, even if they didn't have a concussion their IQ started to drop. We could see, as a group overall, severe low blood flow to their brains. Very high levels of dementia and depression."
Dr. Amen's clinic in Newport Beach, Calif. has built one of the world's largest brain scan databases, including the only major study of brain trauma in active and retired NFL football players.
"I came to Amen Clinics to learn more about head injuries, including my own," said Bill. "When I was five years old, I had a major concussion. So I'm going to go in for my first brain scan and, fingers crossed, my brain is still working the way it should be. We'll see what happens."
The clinic utilizes a nuclear imaging technology called SPECT, which shows your brain's activity. It takes 25 minutes for the scanner to capture a 360-degree image of the brain.
"So this is your brain," Dr. Amen explained to Bill. "And a lot of your brain is fabulous. But, there's clear evidence of trauma. Can you see this big dent back here? Whenever I see that, I think at some point you had a brain injury."
Bill remembers the incident clearly.
"In front of our house we had a basketball hoop and I wanted to dunk the basketball," he recalled. "Someone had parked their car in the driveway. I hopped on the roof of the car and my foot hooked on the luggage rack as I was going, and I landed on my head."
"So that's probably what we're seeing," said Dr. Amen as he pointed to the computer readout. "And these are called your temporal lobes. In a really healthy scan, they are full and symmetrical. In yours, they look like they were hurt a little bit. Here and here. And if you look inside a skull, your temporal lobes, which are these guys, sit in these cavities that are surrounded by very sharp, boney ridges. So that one injury, boom!"
The scan also showed lower than normal activity in Bill's cerebellum.
"That can directly come from the head injury," said Dr. Amen.
So what are the side effects of that?
Dr. Amen explained that lower activity in the cerebellum can cause organizational problems, as well as affect judgment and impulse control. The good news is that the damage from such an injury can be repaired.
"I [recommend taking] a high-quality multiple vitamin every day that has high levels of B vitamins, because they'll actually enhance your cognitive ability," said Dr. Amen. "[And] take a high dose of fish oil. We used that in our NFL study because it helps to reverse the effects of brain damage."
Dr. Amen also recommended that Bill take up a "coordination exercise" like table tennis, dancing or juggling.
"Pick the thing you're not good at, because that's the thing that will [help]," he added.
Of course, you don't have to get scanned to start living a brain-healthy life. These tips will improve anyone's brain.
Dr. Amen also recommends getting eight hours of sleep every day -- anything less provides too little blood flow to the brain. And spend 15 minutes a day learning something new. It's a great way to stimulate brain growth.
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