World of Sport

Can Viagra help sporting performance?

The NFL has been rocked by controversy over the use of performance enhancing drugs this season with more and more players testing positive for amphetamines.

More than 10 players who have been suspended have blamed their positive tests on the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) drug - Adderall.

However, when asked about this trend, the Chicago Bears' star wide receiver Brandon Marshall said that it is not the only drug that he has heard about people taking — with a little blue pill more commonly found in the bedroom also being taken by some players to improve 'performance' on the pitch.

"I don't know too much about Adderall," Marshall said before adding: "I know guys, it is such a competitive league, guys try anything just to get that edge. I'm fortunate enough to be blessed with size and some smarts to give me my edge. But some guys, they'll do whatever they can to get an edge. I've heard of some crazy stories. I've heard [of] guys using like Viagra, seriously.

"Because the blood is supposedly thin, some crazy stuff. So, you know, it's kind of scary with some of these chemicals that are in some of these things - so you have to be careful."

But can Viagara even help athletes get an edge and if so how? Opinions seemed to be mixed.

ESPN's injury analyst Stephania Bell wrote about the issue a couple of years ago and explained just what effect Viagra can have on the body.

"Simply put, Viagra is a vasodilator, meaning it helps relax blood vessels to allow for increased blood flow," she wrote.

"In the presence of sexual stimulation, this increased blood flow is the means of counter-attack against erectile dysfunction. Such increased blood flow is not as helpful during competitive sports.

"Scientific studies have shown, however, that the vasodilation effects of Viagra also can improve blood flow to the lungs. This can have a positive effect on conditions in which the blood pressure is elevated in the arteries that supply the lungs, also known as pulmonary arterial hypertension."

Dr. Andrew McCullough, a sexual health expert at the New York University, said he thinks this means Viagra can help people in sports.

"If you have more oxygen going to your muscles, that's more energy and that makes you a better athlete," he said.

"If you have more oxygen going to your muscles, that's more energy and that makes you a better athlete."

McCullough, though, added that it is only likely to help athletes such as runners, cyclists or skiers - sports where endurance and speed are key, as Viagra does not work directly on muscles, so will not make athletes stronger.

Whether it works or not is still being debated, but Viagra is not currently on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances.

WADA last commented on the issue back in 2008 saying: "As regards sildenafil (Viagra), WADA is aware of studies presented in relation to the potential of sildenafil to restore pulmonary capacities at very high altitudes.

"WADA is currently funding a number of research projects on the effects of sildenafil at various altitudes. These projects are ongoing."

Results are still being analysed, although according to the 'Magic Blue Blog', that provides news and commentary on Viagra, "Follow up studies showed that the drug's effect at sea level was not proportional to its high-altitude boost, and some athletes didn't derive any real benefit from it."

So for now it is legal, it may help you at very high altitudes, but it seems as though it is still much more useful in the bedroom than on the sports field.