A new study suggests that girls and women who play soccer should think twice about going up for that next header. Research out of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that females were five times more likely than men to suffer damage to the brain, reports Scientific American. The study in Radiology compared 49 female and 49 male soccer players who used headers, and it discovered noticeably more deterioration in the white-matter regions of the women's brains. This kind of damage wouldn't necessarily translate into concussions on the field, but to more low-grade problems that could accumulate over time and possibly lead to cognitive issues, reports NPR.
"The most important finding here is that we see that in women's brains, actually looking at brain tissue, there seems to be a greater sensitivity to repetitive, very low-level injury relative to men," says lead author Michael Lipton. The researchers didn't look into why the disparity exists, but they note that men generally have more muscles in the neck area, which could limit whiplash. It's also possible that women become more vulnerable during menstrual cycles because of a dip in the hormone progesterone, which guards against brain swelling. Lipton and his team aren't necessarily calling for headers to be banned, reports NBC News. "Most players seem to tolerate some level of heading," he says. The key now is figuring out those safe levels. (Brandy Chastain wants to help in the research.)