13 July 2007

Athletes, beware of slimming products!

Nothing is worth the risk of being banned, having to return your prize money and medals, and suffering the humiliation of being prevented from pursuing your sporting career.

The crux of sport doping is that there is a list of banned substances available, which clearly and carefully spells out each and every type of pharmacological ingredient that may not be used by sportsmen and women.

Diuretics are listed because they can be used to mask the use of other banned substances such as steroids by speeding up the excretion of the steroid via the urine. So even if a diuretic is taken “innocently” to lose weight (the water that is excreted by the kidneys will make the person weigh less and briefly look slimmer or less puffy, but keep in mind that the moment the effect of the diuretic wears off and the person takes in liquids or water, the weight will return - diuretics do not affect body fat), sports administrators cannot take the chance that the athlete in question has not taken some other banned substance and is using the diuretic to wash all traces of such a transgression out of his or her body.

Many pharmacological and herbal slimming products include diuretics to create the illusion of weight loss via urine excretion.

Ephedrine on the other hand is well known performance-enhancing agent, which is banned outright by international bodies. Ephedrine/adrenaline is the ‘fight or flight’ hormone, which our bodies make to enable us to escape from dangerous situations. It increases blood flow to the muscles, speeds up the heart rate, makes glucose readily available to muscles, increases the amount of oxygen circulating in the blood and also suppresses appetite. It is the latter characteristic of this hormone, which is often used in synthetic form in pharmacological and herbal slimming products to reduce food intake by switching off the appetite.

Some of the other characteristics such as the ‘high’ induced by increased blood flow are also used to make slimmers feel better. One of the prime disadvantages of slimming pills or appetite suppressants is that they have the potential to become addictive, because slimmers get hooked on feeling ‘high’. They also tend to lose their effect over time, so to get the same level of appetite suppression and generate the same feeling of euphoria, the user has to take increasingly large doses. Many pharmacological and herbal slimming products include ephedrine/adrenaline to suppress appetite and make slimmers feel good.

Hidden ingredients
One of the major problems that sportsmen and women may encounter, is the fact that the manufacturers of slimming products ‘hide’ ingredients which are banned in sport. The manufacturers may assure you that their product is “100% natural” or “Contains no harmful stimulants”, when all along it does contains herbal extracts of epinephrine, diuretics, laxatives, and caffeine.

As Okkert Brits said in a statement issued by his manager and quoted in the Pretoria News: “I deeply regret I took a product not knowing it contained Ephedrine, as it was not listed.”

Examples of ‘hidden ingredients’

a) Ephedrine/norephedrine/nor-pseudoepinephrine/adrenaline/noradrenaline -This is a banned substance in sport. This is found in Citrus Aurantium or Bitter Orange Extract and may be listed as Synephrine.

It is possible that the nutritional supplement mentioned by Okkert Brits contained this type of ingredient.

b) Caffeine. This is a Banned Substance in Sport at high doses (more than 12 ug/ml of urine). It is found in guarana.

c) Diuretics.. These are banned substances in sport and are found in herbs such as Uva ursi or Bearberry or Busselrode. Although herbal diuretics are not listed as banned substances in sport, they may lead to dehydration and severe complications during strenuous exercise and should thus be avoided.

Tips to Prevent Banning

If you are a serious sportsman or woman, compete on a provincial or national level, and stand the risk of being tested for banned substances in sport, then you must keep the following in mind:

  • If you need to lose weight, use a sensible low-fat, high-fibre, high-carbohydrate diet and the exercise you are already doing to reduce those kgs.
  • Never take any product or supplement that does not list the ingredients on the label.
  • Check the ingredient list yourself, or ask your chemist or doctor to check these ingredients against the list of Banned Substances in Sport - some companies have a Website where they list all their products and the ingredients they contain plus warnings that some of the products are not for use by sportsmen and women.
  • Use only those products that a) list the ingredients b) carry warnings, e.g. “Not for use by sportsmen and women, pregnant and lactating mothers, children or teenagers”
  • If in doubt, don't use it!

Nothing is worth the risk of being banned, having to return your prize money and medals, and suffering the humiliation of being prevented from pursuing your sporting career. So be careful and always keep in mind that even the most innocent looking products may contain ingredients that can get you banned. To avoid such nightmares, take all the necessary precautions and avoid any product of which you are not 100% sure.

If you have any diet queries, post a question or message on The Message Board. I am here to assist you with your Diet and Food Choices, so let’s interact. (Dr I.V. van Heerden, registered dietician)


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