New angle for 'performance' enhancing drug

A recent study reported by The Los Angeles Times has found a new possible use for the drug Viagra. Researchers at Standford University and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System found that a group of ten trained cyclists, riding stationary bicycles in a simulated elevation of more than 12,000 feet, improved the average performance of four of the cyclists by an average of 39 percent compared to when riding with a placebo.

On its basic level the drug, known chemically as sildenafil, relaxes blood vessels and was originally developed to treat high blood pressure. Researchers studying the effects of high altitude environments began looking at the drug to compensate for pulmonary hypertension which narrows blood vessels, increasing the work put on the heart to pump blood.

But before you run to your doctor complaining of erectile dysfunction the night before the big race, the researchers stated that the effects were not seen at sea level and that the four cyclists who responded from the drug were the ones that displayed the most susceptibility to high altitude effects. In addition, it is unclear to researchers the exact altitude where the effects of the drug begin.

The Times' report quoted Dr. Gary Wadler of the World Anti-Doping Agency, who serves on the committee that maintains the list of restricted substances. "We want a level playing field," he said. "If somebody has an illness or disability, you can use a [drug] to level the field."

The report further added Dr. Wadler saying that because the performance-enhancing effect of Viagra is not seen at sea level - and has never been tested at the moderate altitudes - sports regulators have never seriously considered banning the drug.

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