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As a football player, Russell Wilson is a superstar. As a citizen, he is one of the NFL's best. As a neurologist, well … hey, he's a great player!
As you might have heard, Wilson implied in a recent Rolling Stone interview that a sports drink helped him recover from a crushing head shot he absorbed in last season's NFC Championship Game. Given a chance this week to clarify his comments, Wilson said that he did not suffer a concussion but insisted that Reliant Recovery Water "helped prevent" one.
He added: "I think your brain consists of like 75, 80 percent water, so I think that just being hydrated, drinking the recovery water really does help."
Wilson is an investor in Reliant Recovery Water, which debuted in 2014 claiming it could "optimize the body's natural recovery process" by harnessing "charge-stabilized nanobubbles." We can probably write off his contention as that of an amateur and uninformed product spokesman rather than a co-conspirator in a sinister plot to sell snake oil, but it still seems important to point out how undeniably and inescapably wrong he is. To suggest otherwise is to do a disservice to anyone who hopes to avoid concussions.
The truth is that there isn't a single product on the market today known to prevent concussions. That assertion comes not from me, but from a prominent Arizona neurosurgeon who is also a member of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee.
"I've never come across one," said Dr. Javier Cardenas, the medical director of the Barrow Concussion and Brain Injury Center. "And in our program, we're inundated with submissions. I'd say in 90 percent of those cases, there is no peer-reviewed research even attached."
To be fair, neither the original Reliant product press release nor its current website mentioned concussions or brain injuries. Here is Reliant's primary claim, as noted on its site: "Studies conducted by University of Florida and Seattle Sports Medicine found that those who integrated Recovery Water into their active lifestyle experienced less muscle damage and 20 percent decrease in muscle fatigue." (A call Friday to the Tacoma, Washington-based company was not returned.)
But Wilson has now made the connection twice in a public setting, something that "happens far too often," Cardenas said.
"Professional athletes are just that," he added. "They're professional athletes. I don't expect them to do the research or obtain the research or read it, although they should have people who advise them as to what is a good product to promote and why. … Families, parents, athletes want help when it comes to this injury, but we want to make sure that when we are giving advice, we are basing it in fact."
The facts, as Cardenas took me through Friday, are that only a few elements and supplements have even shown promise in reducing the risk of concussion. Some research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids "have been helpful in all sorts of brain injuries," Cardenas said, but evidence of their impact has been minimized by other studies. "We don't discourage omega-3 fatty acids because they're safe," he said, "but we tell people that they may or may not benefit from them."
Another study, administered to rats, has shown that a diet high in fats and carbohydrates can inhibit healing, while a lean diet high in protein can help. But, Cardenas said, the study hasn't been replicated in humans.
And that, as far as Cardenas is concerned, is the extent of actual scholarship associated with the medical prevention of concussions. No link has been found between hydration and concussions beyond the fact that dehydration can exacerbate headache symptoms. When he is asked how to prevent concussions in football, Cardenas points to a handful of methods that by now are well-known.
Hitting with proper technique, as taught in USA Football's Heads Up program, can reduce concussions. (According to USA Football, the program has dropped reported concussions in youth football by 34 percent.)
Neck-strengthening exercises can reduce concussions. So can limitations on full-contact practices and better regulations for helmets. But did the nanobubbles inside some magic water elixir help Wilson? Eh, nah.
"I can't speak to why he would say that," Cardenas said, "but when we look to professional athletes for the things they represent, we hope they have people to advise them to do it professionally."
I suppose Wilson will continue to believe what he wants to believe. If he thinks something he drank prevented a concussion, so be it. But let's hope he keeps that to himself from now on. Let's allow the actual experts to handle the advice.