Does Boxing Cause Brain Damage?

Shane Mosley, left, connects with solid left to the face of Raul Marquez during the second round of their scheduled 12-round super welterweight bout in Las Vegas on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2003. (Image credit: AP Photo/Eric Jamison)

Almost certainly. Research has long shown that head trauma— something no boxer cannot avoid over the years—puts one at risk for permanent brain damage. Brain cells generally cannot repair themselves (as can cells elsewhere in the body), so damaged neurons stay damaged. The American Medical Association and British Medical Association have both called for a ban on boxing, citing statistics of brain damage in professional boxers. Now a study to be presented this week at the American Academy of Neurology's 59th Annual Meeting shows that amateur boxing also increases the risk of brain injury. For evidence, researchers puncture a subject's spinal cord to measure the amount of certain chemicals in their cerebrospinal fluid, a liquid that helps protect the brain from shock and sharp pressure changes. The study found elevated levels of markers suggesting brain damage following a bout of boxing. Boxing deity Muhammad Ali famously lives with Parkinson syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system caused by the degeneration of a group of brain cells involved in voluntary movement. There has been no conclusive evidence that Ali's disorder, which causes tremors, slowness of movement and muscular rigidity, is a result of his boxing career. However, his form of Parkinson's is associated with head trauma. You might encourage your Tyson-loving tyke to take up soccer instead. The same study that looked at amateur boxing also investigated soccer players and found no association between repeated ball-heading and brain damage.