SoCal doctor helps former NFL players heal from brain injuries


SAN DIEGO – More than 200 players will hear their names called in the 2021 NFL Draft and hundreds more will sign as free agents.

Unfortunately, many of those will suffer concussions and possible brain injuries in their career.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t recover now that a doctor in Orange County has developed methods to help them heal.

“I don’t think people understand the CTE situation,” Dr. Daniel Amen said. “They look at it as permanent and irreversible and progressive and there’s just no evidence that’s true. It’s true if you don’t do anything.”

A neuropsychiatrist in Newport Beach with clinics across the country, Amen says he started doing something about it 20 years ago. He has found with improvements in lifestyle, nutrition, supplements and even a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, a damaged brain can improve.

“One of the things we’ve learned in the last 20 years in neuroscience is you’re not stuck with the brain you have,” he said. “You can make it better if you do the right things. And you can make it worse, if you do the wrong things.”

Former Chargers safety Darren Carrington recently started working with Amen.

“I knew my brain had damage,” Carrington said. “And I said as long as my wife didn’t tell me I was crazy, then I was fine. But when I found the place that did the scans and they showed you what it was and how it can get better, I was open to that.”

Carrington played eight seasons in the NFL during the 1990s, including four with the late Junior Seau who took his own life after suffering from CTE. The 54-year-old Carrington estimates that during his career at all levels, he sustained as many as 80 concussions.

He said Amen showed him imaging studies of his brain.

“It kinda did (scare me),” Carrington said. “Because when you see that, it’s like, man, I didn’t know.”

But after working with more than 300 former players, Amen found that 80% get better “when they do what we ask them to do.”

“That’s so exciting,” he said.

Carrington and Amen both believe the NFL could and should do more to help its players both during and after their respective careers. But Carrington also believes some of the responsibility lies with the players themselves.

“Being men and being prideful, we sometimes think, ‘I don’t need to go to the doctor,’” Carrington said. “So I feel like an ongoing maintenance, that part is on the players.”

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