Viagra as a PED

A story in today’s NYT discusses the potential of Viagra as a performance-enhancing drug.

Viagra, or sildenafil citrate, was devised to treat pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in arteries of the lungs. The drug works by suppressing an enzyme that controls blood flow, allowing the vessels to relax and widen. The same mechanism facilitates blood flow into the penis of impotent men. In the case of athletes, increased cardiac output and more efficient transport of oxygenated fuel to the muscles can enhance endurance.

“Basically, it allows you to compete with a sea level, or near-sea level, aerobic capacity at altitude,” Kenneth W. Rundell, the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Marywood, said of Viagra.

Some experts are more skeptical. Anthony Butch, the director of the Olympic drug-testing lab at U.C.L.A., said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” to prove that Viagra provided a competitive edge, given that the differences in performance would be slight and that athletes would probably take it in combination with other drugs. Scientists have the same uncertainty about the performance-enhancing effects of human growth hormone, though it is banned. But some athletes do not need proof — only a belief — that a drug works before using it, Dr. Butch said.

During the previous summer, there was some discussion of Viagra as an ergogenic aid. At that time, I asked some exercise physiology colleagues about the potential effects and here is what they said.

I asked two of my exercise physiologist colleagues about the potential performance-enhancing effects of Viagra. Both felt that it is unlikely that the drug would help. The reason being that the problem isn’t getting blood flow to the muscle but the muscles using the blood flow. One was a little more believing of the theoretical improvement, but felt it would have no practical effect. The other felt there was almost no way it could work. In sum, it’s probably a placebo effect that leads athletes to use Viagra. This effect could be exacerbated by positive sexual experiences.

3 Responses “Viagra as a PED”

  1. Cliff says:

    Well, Rafael Palmeiro was their spokesman.  Hmmm.

  2. Marc Schneider says:

    I guess increasing blood flow only improves performance for certain parts of the male anatomy.

  3. Edward says:

    It would also be quite difficult and embarrassing to run around the bases with a raging….you get the idea.