Fish oil supplements. (Photo courtesy: AP images)

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Concussions cause concerning damage to the brain in sports, and one TCU professor is researching how he can help.

“Every time a football player is out on the field, they’re getting hit,” said Jonathan Oliver, assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the sports concussion research group. “We are really interested in the sub-concussive, which are the impacts players routinely receive that don’t get diagnosed as concussions,” he said.

Oliver said that the idea from their aspect is to better protect athletes as they endure those subconcussive impacts.

Fish oil supplements. (Photo courtesy: AP images)

“We’ve done two studies now with the football team looking at fish oil,” Oliver said. “ We are seeing good results with DHA and then with the combination of DHA and EPA in fish oil.”

Throughout the study, Oliver and his team look at a marker that is associated with damage to the brain. They are partners with a neurochemist in Sweden who has identified a marker called neurofilament light, which is a protein in the brain.

“With boxers, following a bout of boxing, this protein is elevated,” Oliver said. “Over the course of the season, we measured this marker and what we saw when they were taking the fish oil or DHA, that marker was lower in those who took the fish oil, suggesting there is a potential protecting effect to these subconcussive impacts.”

Omega-3’s are on the NCAA impermissible list, which means that those nutritional supplements cannot be provided to student-athletes by the athletics department. DHA is in Omega-3.

Oliver said that having Omega-3’s as impermissible makes it hard for the athletics staff to give athletes something that could potentially be a benefit.

The rule states that the athletics staff cannot freely provide omega-3s in the absence of a medical condition. If a medical condition is identified, then the staff can provide omega 3s.

“The research may be ahead of policy but NCAA must make a ruling that is in the best interest of the overall athletes at the time,” said Dr. Michele Kirk, team physician at TCU.

“There’s a potential for it to protect, but there’s definitely no harm in taking it,” Oliver said, “So why take away the one thing that could provide a benefit? It just makes no sense to me.”

Now, Oliver is doing a similar study in Canada. He is traveling north of the border every month to work with the Canadian men’s and women’s Olympic rugby teams.

Oliver and his team are collecting blood and looking for biomarkers of head injury or head trauma.

“Halfway through as the teams are getting ready for the World Cup, we are going to start them on supplementation,” Oliver said.

They will collect blood after supplementation to compare the results with the TCU football studies.

Oliver said the difference with the rugby players and football players is that rugby players have no helmets on, but they were taught to tackle a little better than football.

“We’ve actually been targeted from Australia to look at some of their teams, and we are doing some other things with other teams as well to see what we can do to protect athletes on the front end,” Oliver said.

The other team names may not be disclosed at this time.