Food and Behaviour Research

Donate Log In

Choline - A Neglected Nutrient Vital for Healthy Brains - BOOK HERE

Essential fatty acid may reduce head trauma effects in football players

By Mackie Shilstone


In this randomised controlled trial, supplementation of American footballers with the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA led to significant reductions in a biomarker of traumatic brain injury.

Animal studies have already indicated that long-chain omega-3 may help to protect against the damaging effects of traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries, but this is the first controlled trial to investigate potential effects on mild concussive injuries in humans, using a well-validated biomarker of the diffuse brain damage these can cause.

For more details of this research study, see:

See also:

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel design study, which appears in the June issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, suggests that the essential omega 3 fatty acid – docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), when given to NCAA Division I football players during the off-season training, preseason and in-season, may reduce some of the effects of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) - concussions.

In their collaborative study – Effect of Docosahexaenoic Acid on a Biomarker of Head Trauma in American Football - researchers from the Sports Research Concussion Group at Texas Christian University, George Mason University, and colleagues in Sweden and the United Kingdom noted that, "previous studies in rodent models of TBI (traumatic brain injury) support the possibility that DHA reduces markers of axonal injury."

According to, "diffuse axonal injury occurs in about half of all severe head traumas, making it one of the most common traumatic brain injuries. It can also occur in moderate and mild brain injury."

The website also commented that, "a diffuse axonal injury falls under the category of a diffuse brain injury. This means that instead of occurring in a specific area, like a focal brain injury, it occurs over a more widespread area."

Texas Christian investigators and their colleagues used elevations in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) neurofilament light (NFL), "as a marker of axonal damage in humans, (which) is further supported by studies in which elevations are reported in the CSF and plasma of those patients suffering from neurodegenerative and neuroinflammation diseases."

Football - high school, college and the pros - have some of the highest incidences of concussions among contact sports. Previously, the National Football League settled a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit brought by retired players, which changed the scope of how concussions are detected during games – while providing a concussed player with a strategic path to recovery and return to play when deemed appropriate.

In 2014, the American Society of Nutrition (ASN) publish research, which stated that, "DHA acts as an important structural component of the brain." In fact, DHA is the principle omega 3, long-chain fatty acid in brain tissue.

In addition, "the DHA content of the brain has been shown to be reduced after injury, suggesting that there may be an elevated requirement for DHA during recovery."

ASN commented that, "even outside the context of animal models of mTBI, DHA has demonstrated the ability to address several of the hallmark pathologic features of this injury, namely excitotoxicity (neuronal death resulting from increased intracellular glutamate – a neurotransmitter), oxidative stress, and inflammation." In addition,  "DHA has been shown to reduce glutamate-induced excitotoxicity and both axonal and neuronal injury through modulation of ion channels."

All of this research is complex. Yet, in simple terms, science may have found a non- pharmacological (drug) pathway to help reduce the symptoms associated with head trauma by athletes participating in contact sports.

The amount of DHA or a placebo given to the eighty-one test subjects - NCAA Division 1 football players - during the off- season summer conditioning (57 days), pre-season camp (23 days), and the competitive season (109 days) ranged from 2 to 6 grams per day.

The researchers, "report for the first time that supplemental DHA likely attenuates (reduces in force or effect) the increase in serum NFL (neurofilament light), suggesting a neuroprotective effect of DHA, specifically because it relates to axonal injury, the central pathogenic mechanism in mTBI" – mild traumatic brain injury.

It was also noted that, "American football athletes likely require a higher dose of DHA than the average population."

With the advice and consent of an adult football player's personal or team physician, I would look for a triglyceride-based (increased absorption rate) DHA supplement and consider using it under proper medical guidelines and established protocols - along with adding cold-water fish, like salmon, to the player's diet.