Viagra Voomah

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Q: I’ve heard a rumour that Viagra can improve running performance. Any truth to that? — Randall Cloete

A: Yes. The little blue pill has given many a new lease on life, but one unexpected application is as a performance-enhancer for exercise and running. This has resulted in the World Anti-Doping Agency investigating whether to ban the drug, amid reports that its use is becoming wide-spread.

The studies that give credence to athlete’s use of Viagra date back a few years. One in particular stands out. Published in 2006, it found that Viagra (chemical name sildenafil) improved exercise performance in a 6km cycling trial (10 minutes of exercise) by 15% at altitude, but not at sea-level. As with most drugs, people’s responses differed quite widely and two groups were identified – responders who showed a massive 39% improvement and non-responders, who showed no improvement.

As for the mechanism, Viagra was initially developed as a drug to treat high blood pressure and to improve blood circulation in the lungs. Even now, there is
quite strong evidence that people with heart failure or pulmonary hypertension improve when taking Viagra.

Some officials are sceptical, saying that there are many other drugs that should be ahead in the queue for review and a possible ban. Nevertheless, WADA is currently conducting tests and may ban the drug by
September 2009 if the evidence suggests an advantage.

Dr Ross Tucker has a BSc (Med) (Hons) Exercise Science Degree and PhD from the Sports Science Institute. Visit his blog onwww.scienceofsport.blogspot.com.

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