Stimulants and Exercise, Prescription for Death?
By Vivian Richardson, Ivanhoe Health Correspondent
NEW ORLEANS (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- It has killed football players, baseball players, wrestlers, soldiers and even firefighters. Yet some athletes continue to take ephedra to improve their performance, something exercise science experts find troubling.
"Ephedra blocks fatigue and pushes athletes over the edge and into the abyss," said Randy Eichner, M.D., before a full audience at the American College of Sports Medicine's 54th Annual Meeting in New Orleans. The University of Oklahoma "Sooners" team physician gave several examples of athletes who died after taking ephedrine, including Baltimore Oriole's pitcher Steve Bechler, who died during spring training four years ago at age 23.
Dr. Eichner explained there are a few different theories on how ephedrine, a chemical cousin to amphetamine, can cause an athlete's death. Some believe the chemical causes the body's temperature to rise too high. Dr. Eichner said he believes it masks fatigue and allows athletes to push their bodies past the point of fatal dehydration. "Fatigue is Mother Nature's way of telling you to quit," he said.
"The warrior mentality in football is often the final enemy," said Dr. Eichner. The macho drive to push past the pain and win is often what keeps an athlete from taking the precautions, like staying hydrated and avoiding heat exhaustion, necessary to prevent injury, he explained. "Huge guys are heat bombs," he said, meaning large football players who exert a lot of energy create a lot of body heat. Add ephedra, and you've got the potential for heat stroke.
The same warrior mentality is seen the U.S. armed forces. A military physician in the audience shared Dr. Eichner's concerns about the use of ephedrine. He told Ivanhoe soldiers using ephedra or similar stimulants in hot climates, like the Middle East, is a dangerous combination. If a soldier becomes severely overheated, the reaction can destroy his ability to regulate body temperature in the future, possibly ending that person's ability to serve.
Audience members brought up concerns about the effects of cold and allergy medications, which can contain drugs that are similar to amphetamine and ephedra. Dr. Eichner said he is not overly concerned about athletes who take a recommend dose of cold medication.
Other stimulants, like ProVigil (modafinil), Adderall and Ritalin also concern Dr. Eichner. "I'm a little worried that it might have the same fatigue-masking effect as ephedra," he said.
This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, which offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, click on: http://www.ivanhoe.com/newsalert/.
SOURCE: Vivian Richardson at the American College of Sports Medicine 54th Annual Meeting in New Orleans, May 30-June 2, 2007