Nutritional supplements taken to boost athletic performance can pose risks to the heart, according to a European Association of Preventive Cardiology statement published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the ESC.1
“Nutritional supplements are commonly viewed as risk-free substances that may improve performance,” states the paper. “Some nutritional supplements, including various plant and ‘natural’ extracts, may pose a serious health risk and athletes may even risk contravening anti-doping rules.”
“Athletes who use supplements often have no knowledge regarding their effects on sports performance and overall health,” continues the document. “It is reported that most athletes get nutritional advice from coaches, fellow athletes, family members and friends, suggesting that more wide reaching educational interventions, at an early age, are necessary.”
Key points for athletes using nutritional supplements:
- A natural supplement is not necessarily a safe supplement.
- Use products by established manufacturers with known good quality standards.
- Athletes are personally responsible for any substances they consume.
- Ignorance is not accepted as an excuse in relation to a positive doping test.
The position paper outlines the cardiovascular effects during sports of doping substances, prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, legal performance-enhancing supplements, and experimental drugs.
Doping refers to the use of a substance or method which is potentially dangerous to athletes’ health or capable of enhancing their performance. To take one example, death among athletes doping with
anabolic androgenic steroids is estimated to be 6–20 times higher than in clean athletes, and around 30% of these deaths can be attributed to cardiovascular causes.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) maintains a list of prohibited drugs, but nutritional substances are not included since many are unregulated and unlicensed. The use of legal supplements by athletes varies between 40% and 100% depending on the sport and level of competition. Intended to enhance performance and give a competitive edge, legal supplements include caffeine, creatine, energy drinks/gels/bars, beetroot juice, and proteins.
“Caffeine is a prime example of a natural substance that is considered safe,” said first author Dr. Paolo Emilio Adami of World Athletics, the global governing body for track and field. “While caffeine improves performance, particularly aerobic capacity in endurance athletes, its abuse may lead to fast heart rate (tachycardia), heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias), high blood pressure, and in some cases sudden cardiac death.”
Release date: 27 January 2022
Source: European Society of Cardiology