Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Something else for the soccer moms to worry about

Here's one for the soccer moms to worry about, at least a very, very little bit:

Why soccer would be a risk for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a mystery. But a new study has found that Italian professional soccer players get the disease at a rate nearly six times as great as the general population. *** A.L.S., often called Lou Gehrig's disease, is an incurable and invariably fatal degenerative disease of the nervous system. Although there have been many suggestions about the possible risks for the illness, including participation in sports, no clear-cut evidence has been found for any risk factors except age and sex. (A.L.S. tends to strike around age 60, and a vast majority of patients are men.) The new study, however, found not only an increased risk among these Italian athletes, but also that the risk was dose-related: the longer an athlete played, the greater his risk of contracting A.L.S. *** "We are very confident that these results are real and are not due to a statistical effect," Dr. Chiò said. But he cautioned that the meaning of the findings was not clear, that A.L.S. is a very rare disease and that the study's results in no way suggested that anyone should stop playing soccer. *** Eighteen cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis were identified. The researchers interviewed all living players who had A.L.S., as well as the doctors and relatives of players who had died from the disease, and compiled detailed medical and personal histories of the patients' activities and health before, during and after their time as active athletes. The researchers also gathered family histories, paying particular attention to neuromuscular disorders. One form of A.L.S. is inherited, but no affected player had the disease in his family. Dr. Chiò and his colleagues suggest several explanations, none of them with certainty. Perhaps, they say, A.L.S. is related to heavy physical exercise, and therefore not related particularly to soccer. Or maybe trauma, particularly the head trauma involved in heading the ball or repeated traumas involving the legs, is a factor. Illegal or legal therapeutic drugs may also be involved, and it is possible that environmental toxins like fertilizers or herbicides used on soccer fields play a role. The authors concede, however, that each of these hypotheses has weaknesses, and the puzzle endures.