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Hormones and Brain Injury: Did Junior Seau Suffer From Pituitary Dysfunction?

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Recently there has been an increased awareness of the poor health of many former NFL players. The world was saddened by the suicide of Junior Seau on May 2, 2012, which follows the suicides of other former players, including Dave Duerson and Mike Current. The cause of the suicide of these players is currently unknown but could be related to the repeated head trauma NFL players suffered during their playing careers. What is not widely known is that head trauma is very strongly associated with pituitary dysfunction. In fact, up to half the patients with traumatic brain injury suffer from some type of pituitary dysfunction. The pituitary is the master gland located at the base of the brain that controls many important hormones. The reason the pituitary is affected in head trauma is that the pituitary is a small gland connected to the rest of the brain by its stalk and is located in a bony structure at the base of the brain called the sella. The sella protects the pituitary; however, when the brain is jarred after a concussion, the brain moves but the pituitary stays in place. This stretches the stalk connecting the brain and the pituitary. When the stalk is stretched it is no longer able to send the proper signals from the hypothalamus to the pituitary and the pituitary no longer secretes hormones properly.

There is a discrete order of pituitary hormones that are affected by pituitary dysfunction as a result of the head trauma that leads to hypopituitarism. The first hormone affected is growth hormone followed by the gonadotropin hormones, LH and FSH, which regulate a woman's periods and a man's testosterone level. The third hormone to be affected is the TSH that regulates the thyroid hormones. ACTH, which regulates the release of cortisol from the adrenal gland is rarely affected.

Growth hormone deficiency with traumatic brain injury is quite common and is thought to be present in 20-50 percent of the patients with traumatic brain injury. Growth hormone deficiency in adults has multiple manifestations including effects upon mental health with a high incident of depression and general dysfunction and unhappiness.

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EmpowHER Guest

I am very glad to see someone of Dr Friedman's stature highlighting the strong connection between head injury and pituitary damage, and pointing out the risk of depression and suicide. Our son had a severe head injury aged 7 and committed suicide at the age of 31. We discovered after his death that he had been impotent, which can be one consequence of a damaged pituitary (Dr Friedman mentions the gonadotrophins). Since his death I have campaigned for greater awareness and have come across three people with hypopituitarism who have felt suicidal, one of whom has made more than one attempt. Hormone treatment, luckily, has helped these people. It is so important to spread the information. People with hypopituitarism tend to be told they have chronic fatigue syndrome and given counselling and exercise therapy, which doesn't help them at all!

January 18, 2013 - 8:26am
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