Head Trauma

TCU researchers use football program to examine the potential neurological protection of omega-3.

 (This story by Lisa Martin originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Endeavors magazine.)

Long after the Horned Frogs trounced Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, the legacy of that storied season continued with groundbreaking research into head trauma. In fact, key findings involving the 2014 Big 12 championship team may have wide-ranging implications for anyone who participates in contact sports.

Photo of Jonathan Oliver

Jonathan Oliver, assistant professor of kinesiology in Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences (photo by Carolyn Cruz)

Jonathan Oliver, assistant professor of kinesiology, started with a simple premise: Football players are hit on the head throughout the season, but most of those impacts aren’t serious enough to be labeled concussions. Athletes often return to practice or play before a full recovery from concussions, so the professor wondered if that puts athletes at risk for more serious damage. And if so, what could be done?

Oliver isn’t alone in asking questions about head trauma, on and off the gridiron. The deteriorating health of some former professional football players, along with postmortem diagnoses of CTE, has sparked a nationwide conversation about long-term neurological implications.

In the study’s findings, which were published in the Journal of Neurotrauma and in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Oliver took a closer look at docosahexaenoic acid, the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain.

“DHA has received considerable attention as a possible intervention to mitigate pathology associated with concussion, but only in animals,” said Oliver, who is a lifelong athlete. “We sought to determine if DHA would provide a neuroprotective effect over the course of the season in these football athletes.”

In other words, could DHA not only speed healing in players, but also help prevent injuries in the first place? To investigate his research theories, Oliver recruited Dr. Michele Kirk, TCU’s team physician, and David Gable, assistant athletic director of sports medicine.

Read more in Endeavors.