Asthma medicine improves respiration, but it's illegal


January 25, 1994|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,Contributing Writer United Features Syndicate

Some former East German female runners have been banned from competition because they were reported to have taken an asthma medicine called clenbutarol. Clenbutarol belongs to a group of drugs called beta agonists that widen the bronchial tubes that carry air to and from the lungs. Beta agonists also help athletes to recover faster from workouts so they can do more work.

Training for sports is done by stressing muscles with a hard workout and then allowing enough time for muscles to recover before they are stressed again. For example, after lifting very heavy weights, an athlete may have to wait seven to 14 days before lifting very hard again, and a runner may have to wait three or four days before he can run very fast again. After taking beta agonists, athletes can shorten their recovery times to even one day.

One hazard of taking beta agonists is that they can cause a rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, shakiness and nausea. Athletes often take higher than recommended doses and can harm themselves.

Clenbutarol is not approved for use in the United States, though it can be obtained elsewhere throughout the world. Albutarol and salbutarol are available here to asthmatics by prescription. The International Olympic Committee allows asthmatics to take albutarol and salbutarol by inhalation, but not by pills, when a physician informs the Olympic Committee at the time he prescribes the medication. If an athlete does not follow these guidelines, he can be banned from competition for life.

Q: Every year I worry more about my husband shoveling snow. He's 68 now and never gets any other exercise. -- L.L., Jackson, Mich.

A: Perhaps this year you can persuade your husband to hire a neighborhood teen-ager to do the job. If a person is out of shape, shoveling snow can cause a heart attack. Two recent studies in the New England Journal of Medicine show that people who don't exercise regularly are 100 times more likely than exercisers to suffer from a heart attack when they exert themselves.

Shoveling snow is hard exercise that mainly uses the arms. Your heart has to work two and a half times as hard to pump blood through your arms as it does to pump the same amount of blood through your legs.

On the other hand, shoveling snow should not be a problem to regular exercisers. Partially fill your shovel so that you won't lift loads that are too heavy. Lifting an overly full shovel can lead to back injury. Hold the shovel close to your body when you lift it. The farther away you hold the shovel, the more stress on your back. And use your legs to do the lifting. Reach down by bending your knees, rather than your back. Then come up by straightening your knees.

Q: I've started to do aerobic dancing and love it, but my hair has become an unmanageable mess. How do athletes keep their hair presentable? -- R.W., Eau Claire, Wis.

A: If you exercise and don't shampoo regularly, sweat, salt, skin debris and oil will cling to your hair, making it dirty -- and old skin will cling to your scalp, making it itchy. You can shampoo as often as you want. The shampoos on the market today will not damage your hair, no matter how often you wash it. Each hair shaft is covered with a protein layer called a cuticle, which is so tough that frequent shampooing will not damage it.

Don't be misled by some of the advertising claims about acid-balanced pH. The cleaning agents in all shampoos are alkaline soaps and detergents, which do not damage your hair. Some manufacturers add acids to make their products less alkaline, but it doesn't change the soap and it doesn't make any difference to your hair.

If your hair frays and tangles and your scalp is excessively dry, you will want to use a separate conditioner after you shampoo.

Conditioners in shampoos are removed from your hair by the soaps and end up down the drain. Beer, herbs, vitamins and milk are lousy conditioners. You can use plain laundry soap to wash your hair as long as you massage a good protein conditioner into your hair while it is still wet.

Shampoos don't fray your hair. Fraying is caused by excessive brushing, dyeing, curling, blowing and combing. If your hair frays, try cutting it shorter so it will fall in place when it dries. Then you won't have to use harsh implements on it. You will be able to exercise and shampoo every day.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

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