Viagra: also an on-the-field performance enhancer?

November 23, 2008 at 11:27 pm Leave a comment

And they say irony is dead. Not quite.

The NYT has a story this morning about how the World Anti-Doping Agency is investigating the performance enhancing effects of Viagra

Viagra, or sildenafil citrate, was devised to treat pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in arteries of the lungs. The drug works by suppressing an enzyme that controls blood flow, allowing the vessels to relax and widen. The same mechanism facilitates blood flow into the penis of impotent men. In the case of athletes, increased cardiac output and more efficient transport of oxygenated fuel to the muscles can enhance endurance.

“Basically, it allows you to compete with a sea level, or near-sea level, aerobic capacity at altitude,” Kenneth W. Rundell, the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Marywood, said of Viagra. [Full article here.]

WADA has taken an increased interest in Viagra since a 2006 study at Stanford University about the performance effects of the drug in endurance athletes. The study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found that Viagra improved the performance of some athletes by as much as 40% in a 10K cycling time trial at a simulated elevation of almost 13,000 feet. (There was no significant advantage to taking Viagra at sea-level, where the blood vessels of healthy athletes are already dilated.)

The Stanford study came just two years after a German study about how Viagra may affect the breathing abilities of high-altitude mountain climbers. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the 2004 study found that Viagra “relieved constriction of blood vessels in the lungs and increased maximum exercise capacity.”

It seems some athletes (or their coaches and trainers) read this research and decided to put it to the test. This past May, professional cyclist Andrew Moletta was suspended from the Giro d’Italia after tour officials found more than 82 Viagra pills and other questionable substances in his father’s car.

Here’s the fun part of all of this… A few years back, before his image was tarnished in a ridiculous display of feigned indignation during the Congressional investigation of steroid use in baseball, Rafael Palmeiro was an “unlikely pitchman” for Viagra. Why? Because he never admitted to having erection problemsPrint ads with his image cryptically said, “Viagra. Let’s just say it works for me.” 

(You may remember that Palmeiro — just five months after swearing under oath to members of Congress that “I have never used steroids. Period.” — was suspended by MLB for… Yup using steroids.)

Since he never claimed to have ED, and swore to have never taken steroids, maybe Palmeiro was talking about the athletic performance enhancement effects of Viagra in these ads

As an interesting side note, and as highlighted in the fantastic documentary of American sport and sociology, Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, in 2006, Congress spent more time investigating steroid use in baseball than it did investigation or debating the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and national healthcare. 

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood 

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Recipe for success: 10,000 hours of practice and plenty of myelin! Busy bookmarking: 32 — no, now 60! — education blogs

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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