Tuesday 15 April 2014

Xenon and sports doping – does it work?

I have taken a while to write this promised blog about the performance effects of xenon and doping. The reason being that I really could not find anything relevant. As I said in my previous blog on the matter [1], animal studies suggest xenon can activate hypoxia inducible factor. This, in principle, can increase EPO levels, which in turn can increase red blood cell number, which in turn can increase aerobic sports performance. 

The animal papers suggest xenon might be more effective than low oxygen (or altitude training) in raising EPO. Presumably people doping with xenon have access to secret human performance data; this would help them to optimise the treatment. But there are no human studies I could find, or at least none that I could readily access in the scientific literature. Still, given its use as an anaesthetic, I suspect there must be some xenon EPO data hidden in the results section of a paper looking at something else (or even in some hospital records of blood samples following xenon administration) - I just haven’t found it yet!

Anyway I asked my old collaborator, the neonatologist Dr. Nikki Robertson, what she thought of this. Dr. Robertson is looking at the effect of xenon at protecting newborn babies at risk of brain damage. She didn’t know of any studies looking at the long lasting effects of xenon on hematocrit. However, she is currently managing a UK Medical Research Council neuroprotection trial using xenon [2] so she will take a look at her data and see if she can see an effect (although it has to be said that sick babies are about as far removed as you can get from elite athletes, the principle may be the same).

Interestingly another noble gas, argon, is potentially even better than xenon at neuroprotection. If this works via EPO activation it would be even more interesting to athletes as argon is a lot cheaper to buy than xenon!

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