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Researchers suggest playing American Football may be a risk factor for hypertension

New research in The FASEB Journal suggests that immune system activation and inflammation arising from musculoskeletal trauma, as well as excess weight and other risk factors, contribute to hypertension

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

As National Football League playoff games are underway, a new article published in the "Hypotheses" section of the January 2016 issue of The FASEB Journal, suggests that the toll the sport takes on players' bodies extends beyond head trauma and damage to limbs and joints. The trauma and damage associated with football participation may also be linked to elevations in blood pressure through immune system activation and inflammation.

"Although our hypothesis addresses the etiology of hypertension in footballers acutely, it could also have important implications on understanding the development of chronic disease long-term, and thus may improve the quality of football players' lives upon retirement from the game," said Cameron G. McCarthy, M.S., study author from the Department of Physiology at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia.

In their article, McCarthy and colleagues discussed their hypothesis about the mechanisms that may mediate the elevations in blood pressure and hypertension observed in football players. Although a review of the scientific literature suggested an association between excess body weight and cardiometabolic risk factors with hypertension in football players, and especially in linemen, not all the increases in blood pressure could be solely attributed to these factors. Therefore, it was suggested that immune system activation and inflammation arising from musculoskeletal trauma also contribute to this response. The authors hope their hypothesis will promote research to investigate the mechanisms that underlie this hypertension, as well as preventative and therapeutic strategies for this potentially at-risk population. Once these mechanisms become clear, players, parents, coaches, athletic trainers, and clinicians can begin to identify and implement strategies to prevent and treat harmful elevations in blood pressure.

"We can easily see that American football players take an enormous amount of physical punishment when they play," said Thoru Pederson, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, "but what we can't see so easily are the long-term effects. Hopefully, this hypothesis shines a light on this potential silent killer of athlete and nonathlete alike


Receive monthly highlights from The FASEB Journal by e-mail. Sign up at The FASEB Journal is published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). It is the world's most cited biology journal according to the Institute for Scientific Information and has been recognized by the Special Libraries Association as one of the top 100 most influential biomedical journals of the past century.

FASEB is composed of 30 societies with more than 125,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. Our mission is to advance health and welfare by promoting progress and education in biological and biomedical sciences through service to our member societies and collaborative advocacy.

Details: Cameron G. McCarthy and R. Clinton Webb. The toll of the gridiron: damage-associated molecular patterns and hypertension in American football. FASEB J. January 2016 30:34-40; doi:10.1096/fj.15-279588 ;

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