Not everything natural is harmless. In this medium we have made this warning many times. As it is also done in many other places where scientific information is disseminated. But sometimes it seems that the message does not get through. The artificially synthesized is demonized and the natural is raised to the altars. However, remedies and supplements based on natural substances can be very dangerous. This is also true for athletes. In fact, in their case, they can even be considered doping.
These are some of the warnings made by a team of scientists from the European Society of Cardiology in a report just published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
In it they analyze the consequences, not only of consuming certain substances, but also of mixing them with others. This is another of the great problems of natural substances. They do not have a leaflet that specifies what they cannot be mixed with or what are the appropriate doses to take. It applies to the entire population, but plays even more importance among athletes, as they can often exceed with certain substances in order to improve their performance. This makes them fall into doping, but it can also put their health at risk.
Table of Contents
The two dangers of doping
If athletes are urged to avoid doping, it is not only to avoid sanctions. Logically, that is one of the causes, yes, but sometimes the substances whose use they are trying to control can also be very dangerous to their health.
For example, as explained in a statement by the authors of this latest work, athletes who consume anabolic androgenic steroids may be between 6 and 20 times more likely to die than those who are clean. About 30% of these deaths are from cardiovascular causes.
For this reason, these scientists insist on remembering that substances aimed at improving performance must always pass through the criteria of a physician. It is common for athletes to make recommendations among themselves or to follow the advice of their trainers. Even from family and friends outside the sport. The expert vision of a physician is left aside. And yes, we all know that many times it is the doctors themselves who knowingly participate in doping. But that is already a question outside of science that is not appropriate to comment on in this article. Moreover, it is not something generalized. There are many very good sports doctors.
The point is that a sports doctor will know, first of all, whether that substance is considered doping. But also what are the safe doses, if the athlete has some history that discourages its consumption or if there are other substances with which it should not be mixed.
Not all natural substances are harmless, even for athletes.
Generally natural substances are not considered doping. But this is precisely because their consumption is much less regulated than that of pharmaceuticals. There are legal loopholes that can be exploited. And if on top of that it is natural, then nothing happens.
But that is a mistake. For example, these scientists cite the case of caffeine. It is known to improve performance in general, but especially the aerobic capacity of endurance athletes. Its consumption is more than widespread in any field, we all have a coffee from time to time, or even daily. And that’s okay. It can even be beneficial. But with athletes, things change.
They often resort to caffeine-based sports supplements that involve a much higher dose. If this dose is controlled (again, the advice of a doctor would be of interest) nothing happens. But if it is exceeded, symptoms such as tachycardia, arrhythmia, high blood pressure and even sudden death in extreme cases can occur.
Therefore, it is important that even this substance is controlled by a specialist if possible. In fact, this applies to any natural substance, in any field. Not only in sports.
The dangers of St. John’s wort
A well-known example of the above is St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). As its name suggests, it is an herb, a natural substance. It is attributed with calming and antidepressant properties, hence many people consume it to calm anxiety. Or even in situations of depression. The problem, besides the fact that the fact that it is an herb does not allow adequate control of its consumption, is that it interacts with many medications, generating effects that can be very serious.
For example, if taken with contraceptives it can diminish their effects, leading to unwanted pregnancies. But not only that, it is also possible to increase menstrual bleeding, or even bleeding between one period and another. It is also known to interact with some chemotherapy drugs, reducing their effect. In this case, of course, the consequences can be very serious. In general, it reduces the effects of many drugs. But other times it potentiates them, and this can also be very harmful.
This is the case of antidepressants. It is not uncommon for someone to take St. John’s wort, by consuming something natural, but also accompany it with antidepressants. In that case, something known as serotonin syndrome can occur, which occurs when the levels of this neurotransmitter become too high. Symptoms range from dizziness and confusion to stomach upset, muscle spasms and stiffness. But it can also lead to death if not treated in time.
Therefore, neither athletes nor the general population should happily take nutritional supplements or herbal remedies, shielded by the reassurance that they are natural. Even if they are, we should consider them as if they were drugs, and think that an excessive dose or an inadequate mixture can be very expensive. To find out if this is the case, it is always best to look in the right sources. And, of course, consult a professional. Not everything will be to avoid doping.