Pushing the limits

first_imgIs it the extraordinarily long tendons in his feet or is it his ancestry that enables sport’s greatest ever sprinter Usain Bolt to lay claim to the title “fastest man on earth?” Some even speculate that it’s the percentage of high twitch fibres in his body that give Bolt that extra advantage. Can he go any faster, wonder fans of track and field? We can only wait and see.Some believe that athletes have reached their biological limits, and training regimens aren’t likely to alter their physiology and anatomy any further. Only scientific advancements and genetic interventions will be able to stretch the limits of athletic performance. A runner who aspires for Bolt’s speed, for example, could consider manipulating his DNA to code for fast type muscle fibres, as the science for this is nearly in place.From herbs in the 1800′ s to amphetamines, tranquillisers and anabolic steroids that gained popularity during Hitler’s regime in the 1990′ s, performance- enhancing drugs and technologies have kept evolving. And international drug monitoring bodies are desperately trying to keep pace. Twenty years ago, drug testing in sports was at its inception. Now, a whole industry revolves around it, and millions of dollars are spent in developing detection techniques.Still, each time someone is “caught” we are left a little more disappointed and skeptical: How much of sports performance is natural, we wonder, and how much is artificially induced? Stories of positive dope tests end up overshadowing the accomplishments of athletes. Those who watched the golden girls of the Indian track striking gold in the relay during the 2010 Commonwealth and Asian Games couldn’t help feeling let down when three of them were officially charged with doping and issued bans by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) last month.advertisementAs science advances, so will methods of doping. Medical developments will continually tempt sportspeople to opt for ways of tricking their own bodies into developing larger muscles or greater endurance.Ashwini Akkunji, Sini Jose and Mandeep Kaur face doping bans.When a drug for anaemia was developed a decade ago, a black market for it developed among those in endurance sports such as cyclists. The drug contained a natural hormone called erythropoietin which boosts blood production in the body, increasing its oxygen carrying capacity and endurance by 20 per cent. This technique of “blood doping” became rampant until a test was devised to detect this it in 2000.In the same year, high tech swimsuits were developed and improved swimming performances that had stagnated after the ’90’ s. Michael Phelps’s polyurethane laced suit helped him win 8 golds in the 2008 Olympics. But matters took a turn when professional swimmers began competing in suits made entirely of polyurethane. The added buoyancy provided by this material combined with its ability to squeeze the body into a streamlined shape led to its ban in 2010.The next generation of doping, say experts, will involve the use of highly risky genetic techniques that were originally developed to treat human diseases. A gene to make testosterone could be introduced into the body for stronger muscles, another to boost endurance, build focus and so on.The potential of gene doping is huge: Since the body ultimately creates the changes being sought at a cellular level, MRI scans and muscle biopsies were the only means of detection till recently. Now, WADA has announced that a test to catch genetic “dopers” is ready for use in the London Olympics.Where will all this end, you may wonder? In today’s culture of elite athletics it’s hard to distinguish where training ends and cheating begins. Nutritional supplements and drugs are so ingrained in fitness routines that the distinction between what is natural and what is artificially enhanced is becoming tougher to make. Is a natural supplement that can improve sports ability permissible or not? What about deer antler velvet, which is being touted as an effective way of boosting athletic performance. Is it more ethical to ingest this than opt for blood doping? PETA would say no.The answers aren’t easy. One thing we know for sure, however, is that the lying and cheating will go on as long as detection is the main objective. And the competition will simply move from the track and pool to the trickier one between technologies that enhance performance and those that detect them. The next generation of doping will involve the use of highly risky genetic techniques that were originally developed to treat diseases ===Fad diets face flak At the beginning of every year, Gwyneth Paltrow goes on a detox diet. This time she is on ‘Clean,’ a three week cleansing programme of high fibre foods, oils and pills that sends people running to the loo constantly. Both doctors and Paltrow’s fans have panned this diet, even though the actress loves it.advertisementThe tapeworm diet is another bizarre diet that has been slammed for its unhealthy impact. Offered at some places in Mexico, this involves ingesting beef tapeworm cysts. These interfere with the digestion and absorption of food, so a person can lose weight even while she keeps eating.Scientists say tapeworm infestation can result in a loss of one to two pounds per week. Once the target weight loss is reached, an antibiotic to kill the tapeworm is given.The diet can have disastrous side-effects, as the parasite competes for vitamins and other important nutrients, which may result in nutritional deficiencies. In addition, dieters will probably regain all the weight that is lost if they continue with the same eating habits after the tapeworm is expelled. ===IV vitamin therapy is back in vogue 50 years after Baltimore doctor John Myers created an injectable “Myers Cocktail” consisting of vitamins B6, B12 and magnesium for the treatment of fatigue and depression.Proponents swear that this delivers nutrients directly to the bloodstream, boosting immunity and energy levels.Drips for almost all ailments can be bought: Achy bones need the calcium-magnesium drip, and flu needs the zinc and vitamin B and C combo.===Recycled hearts offer new life It may spook you out to know that pacemakers from cadavers in the US have found takers in Indian heart patients in dire need of pacemakers which they cannot afford.A team of Indian researchers have tied up with American doctors affiliated with Stimubank and Heartbeat International, whose mission is to transport free pacemakers to poorer countries.The reason implantable devices have been largely ignored for recycling is due to the FDA’s concerns about possible infection.The 53 devices selected were rigorously cleaned and sterilised before they were sent to Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai, and are functioning effectively in those who needed them without any significant complications.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *