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Chapter: Medical Physiology: Sports Physiology

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Drugs and Athletes

Without belaboring this issue, let us list some of the effects of drugs in athletics.

Drugs and Athletes

Without belaboring this issue, let us list some of the effects of drugs in athletics.

First, caffeine is believed by some to increase athletic performance. In one experiment on a marathon runner, running time for the marathon was reduced by 7 per cent by judicious use of caffeine in amounts similar to those found in one to three cups of coffee. Yet experi-ments by others have failed to confirm any advantage, thus leaving this issue in doubt.

Second, use of male sex hormones (androgens) or other anabolic steroids to increase muscle strength undoubtedly can increase athletic performance under some conditions, especially in women and even in men. However, anabolic steroids also greatly increase the risk of cardiovascular damage because they often cause hypertension, decreased high-density blood lipopro-teins, and increased low-density lipoproteins, all of which promote heart attacks and strokes.

In men, any type of male sex hormone preparation also leads to decreased testicular function, including both decreased formation of sperm and decreased secretion of the person’s own natural testosterone, with residual effects sometimes lasting at least for many months and perhaps indefinitely. In a woman, even more dire effects can occur because she is not normally adapted to the male sex hormone—hair on the face, a bass voice, ruddy skin, and cessation of menses.

Other drugs, such as amphetamines and cocaine, have been reputed to increase one’s athletic performance. It is equally true that overuse of these drugs can lead to deterioration of performance. Furthermore, experi-ments have failed to prove the value of these drugs except as a psychic stimulant. Some athletes have been known to die during athletic events because of interac-tion between such drugs and the norepinephrine and epinephrine released by the sympathetic nervous system during exercise. One of the possible causes of death under these conditions is overexcitability of the heart, leading to ventricular fibrillation, which is lethal within seconds.


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