Boxing damages young brains

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The Independent Online

Health Editor

Young boxers can develop permanent brain damage early in their careers without any signs or symptoms of injury, according to an investigation following the death in the ring of a 23-year-old.

A detailed study of the young man's brain revealed long-standing brain damage, and some of the structural abnormalities common in the brains of elderly Alzheimer's patients.

Doctors at the Royal London Hospital believe this is the first report of this type of damage in a young adult brain, and their report will further the cause of the British Medical Association and other organisations which want to ban boxing.

Although elderly boxers are commonly "punch drunk", displaying the symptoms of brain damage - slurred speech, disturbed balance, poor memory - neurologists did not expect to find such clear evidence of damage in a young boxer.

The man, who died from after a massive brain haemorrhage, had been fighting since the age of 11 and turned professional at 19. Relatives said that he was occasionally forgetful, but showed no other symptoms. According to a report in New Scientist, his brain contained many "tangles" - abnormal clumps of protein which accumulate in cells and interfere with their function.

Jennian Geddes, a neuropathologist at the Royal London, said the tangles were "wrapped around blood vessels at the bases and sides of the brain, which is exactly where the brain would sustain the force of any blows to the head. This picture is typical of what we find in Alzheimer's disease or retired boxer's brains."