Viagra’s now a sports drug?
Submitted by: Marc C. Gittelman, M.D.
Submitted on: December 2, 2008
Q: I heard on the news that Viagra might actually improve an athlete’s performance. How does that work and do you think it’s true?
A: The World Antidoping Agency is currently funding a study to determine if athletes taking Viagra could potentially have an advantage over their competition. And the competition is everything from bike racing to mountain climbing.
This is how it works: the active ingredient in Viagra helps to relax the blood vessels in the body and this can help to provide a more efficient blood flow and use of oxygen by the body. That mechanism has long helped improve blood flow to the penis in men with erectile dysfunction.
Logic holds that it may improve blood flow and oxygenation in athletes to increase exercise capacity. Because blood flow and oxygenation is most challenged at high altitudes, the Viagra advantage is most likely to be seen in those locations. In 2006 a medical study found that some bikers had a significant improvement when competing at 12,500 feet. Similarly, mountain climbers at 17,500 feet were found to have better exercise capacity.
But it is still unknown whether this advantage will hold true at standard altitudes. Unfortunately, the mindset of some of the “world class” athletes in the past has shown that they have used poor judgment in using virtually any drug that may enhance their competitive edge.
Olympic committees will soon be faced with having to decide on whether they should ban athletes from ingesting these medications. So what about the average athlete in American playing tennis or basketball on the weekend at sea level? Those studies are underway.
My recommendation is to stay away from using these medications as aids in the sports world. I think in the long run these medications will show little benefit for the average weekend warrior and probably any other athlete who competes in all but the most extreme conditions.