PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — As the season kicks off tonight, new research shows professional football players may be at a higher risk of dying from diseases such as Alzheimer’s and ALS.

A new study finds professional football players may be more likely to die from diseases such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and Alzheimer’s Disease, which damages the cells in the brain.

“Three times the risk of dying from these causes then you would expect from the general population,” says Everett Lehman of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “In particular, ALS and Alzheimer’s was more than three times the risk of the general population.”

Recent studies suggest that head injuries on the field may lead to neurological problems. However, the researchers of this study stopped short of drawing that conclusion.

The study in the journal Neurology looked at about 3400 retired players who played for the NFL between 1959 and 1988 for five years or more.

The NFL says it has taken significant steps to address head injuries and protect players. 

“We would hope that changes lets say in the turf and the rules changes will eventually lead to reduction in concussions,” Lehman continues.

Researchers say it will be important to follow players over time to see if new safety measures are keeping them safer.

Some of the players with a history of head injury and neuropsychological problems later in life include Steelers Mike Webster, Terry Long, and Justin Strzelczyk.

The recent suicides of Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, and Ray Easterling are also thought to be related to head injuries during football.

Some former NFL players are suing the league, accusing the NFL of hiding information about brain injury risks.

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