Banned sports drug linked to Lance Armstrong may NOT improve performance, experts warn
Dutch researchers found no evidence the drug, known as EPO, improves performance
But did discover it may thicken the blood, increasing the risk of clots, stroke and heart attack
'No evidence of good experiments to check if EPO would improve performance in elite cyclists'
11:48 GMT, 6 December 2012
Banned sports drug EPO – allegedly used by Lance Armstrong – may not enhance performance at all, experts say
The banned sports drug allegedly used by cycling legend Lance Armstrong – may not enhance performance at all, experts say.
And using the hormone erythropoietin, known as EPO, may actually put the lives of unscrupulous sportsmen at risk, they have warned.
The drug is banned from sports because it is believed to give users an edge over their competitors by improving oxygen delivery to their muscles.
The USA’s anti-doping agency said EPO was used by Armstrong.
But now researchers writing in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology say there is no scientific evidence that it does enhance performance, but there is evidence that using it in sport could place a user’s health and life at risk.
Professor Adam Cohen, from the Netherlands Centre for Human Drug Research, said: 'Athletes and their medical staff may believe EPO enhances performance, but there is no evidence that anyone performed good experiments to check if EPO would actually improve performance in elite cyclists.'
He added that the potential harm arose from the fact EPO thickens the blood, adding to the risk of clots.
These can obstruct blood flow to areas of tissue, meaning oxygen doesn’t get to the cells and they die, damaging the organ.
EPO: CONTROVERSIAL AND ALSO DEADLY
Erythropoietin (EPO) is a naturally-occurring hormone, produced by the kidneys, that stimulates the production of red blood cells.This is said to improve endurance.
However the hormone can also be manufactured and injected into the skin or directly into the blood stream.
EPO may be used in medical practice to bring patient's red blood count into normal levels, such as in patients suffering from anaemia.
A recent report by the US anti-doping agency alleges that Armstrong and his team were able to avoid detection of EPO use by injecting cyclists with saline just before tests to lower their blood cell count.
If the organ is the heart or brain this can potentially result in heart attack or stroke.
EPO is normally used to treat anaemia, where its effect on each patient is carefully monitored.
Professor Cohen points out that researchers work hard to prevent patients taking drugs that don’t work or have dangerous side-effects.
He said: 'So why should the standards be different for the same drugs used in athletes
'Although doping is forbidden, the pressure to win in sport is so great that some athletes seem to be willing to try any way of getting ahead of their competitors.
'When elite athletes and their coaches discover that there is no evidence of benefit and clear risk of harm, I hope many may reconsider trying to cheat.
Silent but deadly: EPO may thickens the blood, adding to the risk of clots (above), leading to heart attack and stroke
'Education may work where attempts at enforcement have failed.
“I believe there is a clear need for high-quality research to investigate the effects of supposedly enhancing drugs in sport.
'If, as is expected, many substances in current use are found to be ineffective it will help keep our athletes safe and improve confidence in sporting results.'