It Is Impossible To Ignore This Anymore: New CTE Study

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

A recent study on football players at various levels of competition found a high incidence of CTE brain damage among collegiate and professional athletes. In this episodes of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss their thoughts on the study, and what that means for young athletes and their parents.


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Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you be Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades, use brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

Daniel Amen: Hey, everybody. Welcome. Tana and I spent four days at a large Tony Robbins event.

Tana Amen: It was really fun. Lots of fun.

Daniel Amen: We had lots of fun. I actually can't hear anymore. If you've ever been-

Tana Amen: Yeah, we sat in the front row. Don't do that.

Daniel Amen: -to a Tony Robbins event, don't sit in the front row.

Tana Amen: Take earplugs.

Daniel Amen: Take earplugs.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Daniel Amen: I was telling everybody it was like going to a rock concert and church and having therapy with a whole lot of bad language.

Tana Amen: Lot of swearing, yeah.

Daniel Amen: But it was wonderful. We had a great time. We came home and today, front page of "The New York Times," actually it's all over the news, a brand new study from Boston University showing that people who played professional football, of the 111 players, they studied their brains, 110 or 99% had evidence of long-term brain damage, this condition we've talked about before called CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Tana Amen: I think this is really scary.

Daniel Amen: But there's more. It wasn't just football players. They looked at people who played football at any level and what they found was that 87% of people who played at any level had evidence of CTE.

Tana Amen: Hold on, so we're including junior high, high school, any level as long as it's tackle football?

Daniel Amen: Correct.

Tana Amen: That's really scary. 87% at any age had cognitive-

Daniel Amen: At any level. But when they actually broke it out, the people- They only had two players who played pee-wee football and that was it. They didn't have CTE.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Daniel Amen: Then they had 14 players who played just high school football, so that'd be like me. 21% of them had CTE.

Tana Amen: Wow.

Daniel Amen: It's an unacceptable risk, in my mind. That actually goes with the Mayo Clinic study that showed 33% of people who played at any level had evidence of long-term brain damage.

Tana Amen: For people who don't know, though, we have to really talk a little bit about what CTE is, what it does, what it means in your life, okay? A lot of people, they hear the word, doesn't really translate. Let's talk about what it means.

Daniel Amen: Just think of it as chronic brain damage that lasts over time. It actually seems to get worse 10 years after you stop playing. But 91% of the college players had evidence of CTE and 99% of the NFL players.

Tana Amen: What scared me about this article was that 96% of these people that showed evidence of CTE had behavioral or mood symptoms or both, and 86% had cognitive impairment.

Daniel Amen: Well, if you actually read that part of the study, 96% of people with mild CTE had behavioral or mood symptoms-

Tana Amen: These are people we see.

Daniel Amen: -85% had cognitive symptoms. Of those who had severe CTE pathology, high level of behavior and mood symptoms, 95% of them had cognitive symptoms, 85% had dementia.

Tana Amen: When you think about the players we see, and I wanna get to this in a little while because obviously the focus has been on football. They're not including hockey and boxing and all these other sports, but I wanna talk a little bit about that, too. But when we think about the players that we've seen in our clinics, hundreds of them now. Domestic violence. They've been arrested for fighting. They can't keep their jobs. Some of them are homeless. Bankrupt. What we're seeing in this study-

Daniel Amen: We're actually seeing somebody this week who's imminently suicidal.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: He's 43.

Tana Amen: Right, and people don't wanna believe that it has anything to do with football.

Daniel Amen: I got a look at his brain and it's not great. But what nobody knows- After I read this study, I emailed my friend, Peter Landesman, and Peter was the writer and director of the movie, "Concussion." I'm like, "Peter, 'Concussion 2: The Hope'" that that's what people don't know, that if you've been bad to your brain, you can put it in a healing environment and often repair it, rather than my worry with this study, is there's going to be a lot more suicides of people who've played college football or professional football because they will not have hope.

Tana Amen: We're calling them-

Daniel Amen: It's another one of those bad, bad, bad, this is bad news without- 80% of our players who went on our program that we do here at Amen Clinics showed high levels of improvement in memory, mood, sleep, attention, but you have to put the brain in a healing environment.

Tana Amen: One of the things, 'cause I remember very clearly the podcast we did with Anthony Davis, it was really great. He's just a great guy who's really dedicated his life to helping others and really exposing this issue. You know, when I see some of the players that we've seen in here, he talked a little bit about how in the community where he grew up, which was rough, rough community, no money, a lot of these guys are using football as a vehicle. If they're good players, it's like talking about brain damage isn't really gonna keep them from playing because they're looking for a ticket out. They're looking for a vehicle out where he grew up, which makes sense.

But when I see the people that we've seen and some of the issues that we have, in addition to suicide, we're talking about domestic violence, homelessness, losing jobs, all of these issues. Violence. They're going to jail. We, for the longest time, have not put together that it could have anything to do with something like playing football for a long time.

Daniel Amen: I think if you ask, we're now at 130,000 scans, probably more now. People go, "Daniel, single most important issue, single most important thing you've learned from all the work you've done with imaging." That's mild traumatic brain injury ruins peoples' lives and nobody knows about it. Nobody knows that just playing a couple of years of football in high school or the car accident you have or falling down a flight of stairs can literally change the trajectory of your life.

Back to speaking about Tony Robbins, he has a new book out called "Unshakable." When we were at the conference they gave it to all of us. It's about wealth management. I was reading the core principles of managing your money, and the number one core principle of managing your money is, "Don't lose it."

Tana Amen: Right, protect it.

Daniel Amen: Right, it's like don't spend-

Tana Amen: Protect the downside.

Daniel Amen: -it stupidly, don't get involved in stupid investments. I thought the number one core principle to brain health is, "Don't lose brain cells."

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: Do whatever you can not to lose brain cells because it's hard to get them back. There's some evidence of neuroplasticity.

Tana Amen: But it's not easy.

Daniel Amen: You don't wanna do that.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: Allowing your children to play contact sports where concussions are part of the games, soccer, horseback riding-

Tana Amen: Right, that's [inaudible 00:08:47].

Daniel Amen: -football, hockey, mixed martial arts, wrestling, boxing, cheerleading. You were a cheerleader, right?

Tana Amen: I didn't get thrown, though. I wasn't that small.

Daniel Amen: The worst thing to do is be a flyer in cheerleading. They steal brain cells. You just don't wanna do that. But if you've been bad to you're brain, there's so much hope. The work we talk about in "The Brain Warrior's Way" or in "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life," I have a new book coming out in November, "Memory Rescue." These are strategies that can significantly improve your life.

Tana Amen: One of the things I wanna talk about, because you brought up a couple of things, the focus has been on football. We'll do another podcast on other sports that are damaging peoples' brains. But this is tough. This is a tough one for parents, especially dads, I think, even more than moms. Football's the all-American sport. What do you say to parents besides the obvious? How do you really compel them? I know what you're gonna say, it's obviously, "It causes brain damage." But kids put a lot of pressure on their parents to play football.

Daniel Amen: Kids put pressure on their parents to do all sorts of stupid things, right? "I wanna play video games. I want to eat bad food. I wanna stay out late." God gave you parents because your frontal lobes are not developed until you're 25.

Tana Amen: I would show them this video. That would be the first thing.

Daniel Amen: I had an interesting interaction with Jeff Arnold, who's the founder of Web MD. He's a friend of mine. We were in a conference, the Future of Medicine Conference, and this issue came up. He said, "I have a 13-year-old who wants to play football. What should I say? I got him a famous coach to help him out." I looked at Jeff and I said, "Well, I'd say 'no.'" He's like, "But he really wants to play." I said, "Jeff, what if he said, 'I really want to do cocaine.' How would you deal with that? Would you go get him the best drug dealer to help him do cocaine in a really good way?"

The level of damage is the same. I've done 130,000 scans. It's not like I just pulled this off for four people I saw. It's damage to the front part of your brain and to your temporal lobes. Why is that a problem?

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: Right? What happens in the front part of your brain?

Tana Amen: Forethought, judgment, impulse control, executive functioning.

Daniel Amen: Empathy, learning from the mistakes you make. Domestic violence, you brought that up. It often comes from a lack of-

Tana Amen: But isn't that also from-

Daniel Amen: -impulse control and empathy. Temporal lobes. Learning, memory-

Tana Amen: Temper.

Daniel Amen: -mood stability, temper control, and if you damage the part of your brain that gives you dark, evil, awful thoughts when damaged and then you hurt the frontal lobes, which are the [break 00:11:59]-

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: -those dark, evil, awful thoughts get out and you can either hurt yourself or hurt someone else. Yet another reminder. This study is yet another reminder we need to protect our brains. But the one thing they are not talking about is rehabilitation and it makes me crazy. You are not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better. We can improve it. I've published papers on it. Why are you kicking me? Why are you kicking me?

Tana Amen: I wanna talk about what they can do, I don't wanna jump off that subject.

Daniel Amen: At least you didn't hit me in the head.

Tana Amen: I don't wanna leave the subject before we finish what parents can do. Before you move on, let's talk about and make sure that-

Daniel Amen: Ping-pong. Tennis. Golf.

Tana Amen: Wait. But also show them. Educate them. A lot of kids, if they really understood why, let's help them understand why this isn't a good idea for them. Show them this video, show them the study, and give them other options like you just said. Give them options like tennis, or-

Daniel Amen: Gigi, one of our clinic directors in Atlanta, has a son that was playing and then had a concussion. He decided to stop playing. Gigi said, "Why?" He said, "I love playing football. I'm going to love my wife and my children more than I love football." Now, some of you are gonna play. You're just gonna do it. When we were at the Tony Robbins event, we were sitting next to a really excellent up and coming boxer, a cruiser-weight boxer. He's not going to stop. What I said, if you're not going to stop, you're gonna engage in something that we all know is hurting your brain, you have to continually rehabilitate it.

Ray Lewis, the famous Baltimore Ravens linebacker, he actually wasn't gonna stop playing. He's making $10 million a year. He put a hyperbaric chamber in his house. After every practice, after every game, he would go in the hyperbaric chamber along taking certain supplements-

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Daniel Amen: -eating right, not being overweight-

Tana Amen: That's part of what we do.

Daniel Amen: You know, quite frankly, if you're a firefighter you're in a brain-damaging sport. If you're a police officer, you're in a brain-damaging sport. If you're a longshoreman, you're in a brain-damaging sport. If you're married to a redhead, that could be a brain-damaging ...

Tana Amen: As long as you're nice.

Daniel Amen: If you are at risk, then you always wanna be doing things to rehabilitate your brain. Diet matters, sleep matters, the supplements you take matter, and so on.

Tana Amen: Excellent. Show your children this video or anyone you know that you love. Show them other options. I think one of the things is people don't like deprivation. They don't wanna feel like they're losing something. Figure out what else they might do-

Daniel Amen: Yeah, but you're gonna be losing brain cells, and that's not a good thing.

Tana Amen: Yeah, but instead of focusing on just the negative, figure out what else that they actually could love and change to and put their passion into something new.

Daniel Amen: There's a study, and we may have talked about it, it was in "The Los Angeles Times," where they looked at all the sports and who lived the longest. People who played football and soccer actually lived the shortest. Runners didn't really get a big boost in longevity. It was people who played racket sports that actually lived the longest. Tennis, squash, racketball, table tennis. It's why three hours a week I play table tennis.

Tana Amen: Excellent.

Daniel Amen: Alright, thanks, everybody. Protect your brain.

Tana Amen: Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. We have a special gift for you. It's an opportunity to win an evaluation at the Amen Clinics. All you have to do is subscribe to this podcast, leave a review, and rate us on iTunes.

Daniel Amen: To learn more about Amen Clinics and the work we do, go to You can also learn about our nutraceutical products at Thanks for listening.