In the past few years, the American football leagues, from pee-wee to the highest professional level National Football League (NFL), have made rule changes to reduce significant injuries. Still, the elephant in the room remains a long-term impact on the body and brain. Wear-and-tear, hits, and injuries accumulated during athletes’ playing years can affect their physical, emotional, and behavioral health.

So, once former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler ended his 12-year pro career, riddled with body shots and concussions, he started looking into healing and preserving his mind and body. In an interview with GQ, the all-time leader in passing yards for the Chicago Bears revealed that he’d started nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) therapy to stay healthy in addition to changing his diet. Through an IV drip, Cutler receives NAD+ in hopes of staving off chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — brain degeneration likely caused by repeated knocks to the head.

The impact of American football on brain health

American football is a dangerous sport. But only in the last few years have we really started to understand the prevalence of devastating, long-term damage in these athletes. In terms of the brain, cumulative hits have been linked to impairment on self-report and objective measures of cognition, mood, and behavior. The brain trauma experienced by these modern-day gladiators, once having hung up their laces, often has manifested in substance use disorder, anger attacks, and suicide.

A landmark study in 2017 showed that in a sample of 202 deceased players of American football, CTE was diagnosed in 177 players across all levels of play (87%), which is substantially more than the prevalence of CTE in the general public at around 6%. For former National Football League players, of which there were 111 in the study, 110 of them were diagnosed with CTE. In former players who had mild CTE pathology in their brains, the majority experienced depressive symptoms (67%), hopelessness (69%), and suicidality (56%). About one in four (27%) died by suicide.

Jay Cutler bears down on health with NAD+ therapy and intermittent fasting

Jay Cutler is the all-time leader in passing yards for the Chicago Bears. In the process, he suffered from 15 concussions in his 12-year playing career with the Broncos, Bears, and Dolphins.

“The amount of concussions I’ve had are probably in the double digits. It’s going to catch up to me at some point. I’m just trying to delay it as much as possible,” said Cutler.

In addition to altering his diet, the ex-NFL player, who is now 38, has tapped into NAD+ IV therapy in hopes of delaying the ramifications of those crippling head injuries.

“I’m doing NAD. I’m doing it through IVs now. NAD is in all the cells in your body, the mitochondria, the energy that pushes each cell to function. As you get older, you lose NAD. So, I’m doing NAD therapy, which, at a core level, helps everything in your body. I’ve noticed that that’s definitely helped me. Anything I can do these days, I’m trying to get involved in.”

Cutler also says he’s been cutting down on sugar and hopping on board with intermittent fasting.

“I’m really big into intermittent fasting. Usually coffee in the morning. Maybe a salad at lunch. Some sort of protein and vegetables for dinner. I’ve come pretty close to getting rid of carbs in the last couple of years. I don’t need to carry that weight.”

When asked about his intermittent fasting schedule, Cutler said that he goes from 6:00 at night to noon the next day.

“It was tough at first, because, definitely in the U.S., we’re all programmed for three meals a day — and a lot of carbs and sugar, which is a huge problem. I tried it and realized that I wasn’t losing weight, that I still have the muscle that I have, and that, if anything, I have more energy. I feel better. I’m sleeping better.”

NAD+ and the NFL

No one says that you have to wait until retirement to begin with NAD+ therapy. Last year, Bleacher Report interviewed Kenny Vacarro of the Tennessee Titans, who revealed that he and running back Derrick Henry have been doing sessions getting NAD+ through IV drips. But the current NFL pro’s motivations don’t seem to lie in staving off CTE but, instead, to boost his energy.

Maybe without knowing it, these active players are getting ahead of the potential long-term trauma from playing in the NFL. Whether it’s to improve performance or prevent future damage, it may not be long before we find NAD+ therapy in football locker rooms throughout the country.