Science

Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport

For a long time now taking performance enhancing drugs in sport has been a major problem. Last year one of the biggest cases in doping history was revealed when Lance Armstrong finally admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs throughout his career and was removed of all his Tour de France titles. In the past week the American Tyson Gay and Jamaican Asafa Powell, both sprinters, have failed drugs tests. The World Anti-Doping Agency brings out a prohibited drugs list each year stating all substances, in five different classes, that are banned from sporting. But just how do these drugs enhance performance?

The drug that Powell tested positive for was the drug Oxilofrine which is a stimulant drug. There are many legal and prescription forms of stimulants such as nicotine, xanthines (which include caffeine) and eugeroics which treat sleeping disorders. Stimulants act by giving the user an enhanced alertness and endurance whilst decreasing the rate at which they fatigue. However stimulants can attack the central nervous system and become very addictive. It also has damaging effects on the heart such as causing extremely high heart rate and increasing blood pressure.

Anabolic steroids are another class of banned drugs which are used to increase muscle mass. Testosterone is a natural hormone which leads to the development of male reproductive organs and secondary characteristics such as muscle and bone mass. Synthetic testosterone can be injected to enhance muscle mass and strength, by increasing the protein in cells. These steroids also have harmful effects such as raising cholesterol levels and increasing blood pressure.

The third class is Peptide Hormones and Growth factors which include growth hormones, estrogen and insulins. These lead to quicker regeneration in muscles and tendons, so there is increased muscle growth.

Beta 2 agonists cause dilation of vessels by relaxing smooth muscle around them. They can be inhaled and used to treat ashma but if they are injected or taken as a tablet they have the same effect as anabolic steroids and increase muscle mass.

The final class are called diuretics, which work by decreasing the water in the body and increasing the production of urine. These drugs are used in sports such as boxing to help lose weight so they can drop a weight class. The loss of too much body fluid can lead to problems such as dehydration, reduction in the volume of blood and increased heart rate. Diuretics are also used by sportsman to mask the use of other illegal drugs by washing them out of the body.

At all major sporting events measures are taken to eliminate those who have cheated. Urine tests detect metabolites of the drugs, which are the broken down products. Other tests include blood samples and hair testing. Blood reaches the growing hair at the scalp and chemicals in the blood become encased in the hair follicles and remain in the follicles as the hair grows.
It has been a nearly a year since sportsmanship shone at the Olympic games in London, yet now again we are unfortunately seeing the darker side of sport. Not only do these performance enhancing drugs raise a moral issue of cheating in sport, but the side effects all these drugs carry makes them a serious health issue too.

Jessica Hewitt-Dean

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