By Dennis Thompson
MONDAY, Aug. 26, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Low testosterone is not something most people typically associate with NFL players.
“The guys at the highest level of concussion were almost twice as likely to report erectile dysfunction as the guys with the lowest levels,” said senior study author Andrea Roberts, a research scientist with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “We found as concussion symptoms increase, the risk of ED and low testosterone increased right alongside.”
However, only an association and not a cause-and-effect link was observed, and other experts noted that other effects of head injury also can increase the likelihood of impotence, including increased stress, poor sleep, high blood pressure and other issues with brain function.
Participants were asked about specific concussion symptoms, including how often blows to the head or neck caused them to:
- Feel dizzy, nauseated or disoriented,
- Have a headache,
- Lose consciousness,
- Experience vision disturbances.
They also were nearly twice as likely to report a recommendation for ED medication, researchers found.
What’s more, players who lost consciousness following head injury were at higher risk of erectile dysfunction even if they didn’t experience any other concussion-related symptoms.
The link between concussion and ED was present among both older men and younger players under age 50, and it persisted over time.
Roberts noted that even players with the lowest number of concussion symptoms had an increased risk of low testosterone, suggesting there may be no safe threshold for head trauma. About 1 in 5 players with the lowest levels of concussion had low testosterone levels.
“Your brain kicks off the signal to adjust both your testosterone level as well as your sexual function,” Roberts said. “That’s the thing we suspect is being damaged by these blows to the head.”
The findings “suggest concussions are a risk factor for ED and low testosterone, even for younger guys,” Roberts said.
However, Alberts said men who’ve experienced a single concussion in their lives probably shouldn’t worry, especially if the concussion didn’t require hospitalization.
“It would be hard to imagine a single impact like that would trigger significant events or ED,” Alberts said.
The findings were published Aug. 26 in the journal JAMA Neurology.
“Pituitary damage has long been associated with concussion, and often pituitary function is one of the first thing physicians check once concussed patients are stable,” Gandy said.
Previous studies have found that men who undergo chemical castration to treat prostate cancer experience a roughly doubled risk of dementia, Gandy said. They also have an increase in blood levels of amyloid, a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
“This illustrates the close relationship between male gonadal hormones and brain function, and suggests that testosterone supports cognition and memory at some level,” Gandy said.
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SOURCES: Andrea Roberts, Ph.D., research scientist, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston; Jay Alberts, Ph.D., concussion researcher and chair, Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute; Sam Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., director, Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health and NFL Neurological Care; Aug. 26, 2019, JAMA Neurology