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Study: 'Heading' A Soccer Ball More Dangerous For Women

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It is one of the most exciting, unpredictable and some are coming to believe, dangerous moves in soccer. A new study finds that women are more susceptible to certain brain issues then men when they "head the ball."

The practice has become controversial enough that some parents and even some youth leagues have banned it.

"I don't want my child heading the ball," says one parent.

And there is research that suggests that heading can be harmful to the brain.

"Cognitive function, for example how people perform on memory or information processing speed amongst others, are adversely associated with heading such that we can actually measure in individuals that actually do the most heading worse performance on a number of cognitive tasks," said Dr. Michael Lipton of Albert Einstein College of Medicine-Montefiore.

Lipton, who has published numerous studies on the effects of heading on brains, has found that women's brains appear to be more susceptible to a specific type of damage from heading.

"The concept of women being more sensitive to minor head injury is something that has been at least suspected for quite a while and there's some evidence behind this," he says.

The evidence comes from a specific type of brain scan that measures the flow of water molecules in the brain -- an indicator of intact or disrupted nerve fiber pathways within the white matter of the brain.

"We find that the amount of brain tissue is affected by the relationship of heading is much greater is much more extensive in women in fact we found five times as much brain tissue is affected in women than in men for identical amounts of heading," Dr. Lipton said.

Whether or not this leads to any permanent impairment, in the short or long-term is still unknown. And Dr. Lipton doesn't think this yet warrants banning heading.

"If you look at some of our earlier studies that might not be necessary because the brain seems to be pretty robust to at least some amount of heading," he said.

As to why women's brains may be more susceptible to heading injury, there are only theories. One is that women have less muscle mass in their necks to stabilize the head when heading the ball. Another is the possibility that female hormones that are known to affect the brain may also make it slightly more fragile.

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