Prevention and Wellness

Performance Enhancing Drugs and the Olympics

Corinne Lyons, MA, AT, CSCS, Premier Health Sports Medicine, Upper Valley Medical Center, answers Frequently Asked Questions about performance enhancing drugs and athletics, especially the Olympics.

What is WADA?

WADA stands for World Anti-Doping Agency. This organization is actually a foundation that was developed in part by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1999. This foundation is based in Canada but was founded in Switzerland.

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What is WADA’s responsibility?

WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, promotes, coordinates and monitors the fight against drugs in sports. The agency's major functions include scientific research, education and development of anti-doping capabilities. The agency also monitors the World Anti-Doping Code.

What is the World Anti-Doping Code?

The World Anti-Doping Code is a document used to provide consistent anti-doping regulations for all sports in all countries across the globe. WADA publishes an annual list of prohibited substances that athletes are not allowed to take, as well as prohibited methods for administering those banned substances.

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What are some common banned substances for Olympic athletes?

Alcohol, marijuana, growth hormones, anabolic agents, diuretics, stimulants, beta-blockers and narcotics are all banned for Olympic athletes.

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How are beta-blockers used as a doping agent in sports?

In the normal population, beta-blockers are prescribed to treat heart-related conditions such as high blood pressure, angina, hypertension and heart attacks. Athletes use beta-blockers in sports because of how the drug blocks adrenaline in the body. Beta-blockers can cause a slowed heart rate. This makes the heart work more efficiently and causes less anxiety. This is particularly effective in athletes who compete in rifle and archery, so beta-blockers are banned because they can improve accuracy in these sports. There are some very specific exemptions for the use of beta-blockers in sports on the international stage for cardiovascular issues, but rarely do high caliber athletes at the Olympic level suffer from these issues.

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In what other sports could athletes benefit from the use of beta-blockers?

Beta-blockers could be used to improve the performance of athletes in golf, skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping and freestyle aerial.

How are growth hormones being used by modern-day Olympic athletes?

Growth Hormone (GH or HGH) is thought to increase lean body mass, speed the recovery of muscle fatigue and injury, increase bone density, improve lipid profiles, reduce cardiovascular risk factors and improve mental health. There have been no random controlled trials to support the claims of increased performance, but some small studies of growth hormone have shown increased lean body mass, but not an overall increase in strength. HGH can be harder to detect than other performance enhancing drugs, such as anabolic agents. HGH can also be used in combination with other performance enhancing drugs such as testosterone, anabolic steroids and erythropoietin.

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What are the risks of taking GH or HGH?

The long-term risks of using GH or HGH include diabetes, joint and muscle pain, increased HDL levels in the blood, osteoporosis, hypertension and overgrowth of tissues.

Which athletes typically are attracted to the use of HGH?

Athletes who participate in body building, wrestling, mixed martial arts, swimming, other strength sports, track and field, cycling, soccer and weight lifting are those typically most attracted to using HGH.

Source: Corinne Lyons, MA, AT, CSCS, Premier Health Sports Medicine, Upper Valley Medical Center; World Anti-Doping Agency, US Anti-Doping Agency

Content Updated: February 19, 2018

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