Does doping really help athletes improve performance?

June 18th, 2008 - 2:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 18 (IANS) It’s all in the mind, really. Athletes who consumed what they believed were performance-enhancing drugs as part of a new study actually improved their timings. This placebo effect was greater in male recreational athletes than in females, said study’s co-author Jennifer Hansen, a researcher at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Australia.

“Athletes are doping with growth hormones to improve sporting performance despite any evidence it actually improves performance,” said Hansen, who sought to test whether the power of the mind affects physical performance.

“Therefore, we wanted to know if any improvement in performance is due just to the athletes’ belief that they are taking an agent that enhances performance, rather than to the agent itself.”

Under the study, 64 adult recreational athletes randomly received either growth hormone - a substance banned in sports - or an inactive substance (placebo) for eight weeks.

Neither the athletes who volunteered nor the investigators knew which substance the athletes received. Later, researchers asked athletes to guess which agent they had taken and to say if they thought their sporting performance had changed.

Then they tested the athletes on physical performance tests of endurance, strength, power and sprint capacity.

Men were much more likely than women to think they had received growth hormone. Regardless of sex, athletes who took the dummy drug but believed they were on growth hormone (”incorrect guessers”) thought their performance improved and actually had some improvement in all measures of performance.

However, jump height (power) was the only test that showed a significantly greater improvement among the incorrect guessers, according to Hansen.

“The results of this study suggest that the placebo effect may be responsible, at least in part, for the perceived athletic benefit of doping with growth hormone for some people,” Hansen said.

The results of the study are slated to be presented Thursday at The Endocrine Society’s 90th annual meeting in San Francisco.

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