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WADA Declines To Ban Thyroid Medication

The World Anti-Doping Agency has published its list of substances and methods to be banned in international sport for the forthcoming calendar year on Tuesday.

Kara Goucher

WADA omitted the inclusion of thyroid hormone despite lobbying efforts from British and American authorities. The World Anti-Doping Agency was heavily lobbied by authorities at U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and U.K. Anti-Doping to consider banning the substance. The two agencies raised concerns that thyroid hormone is being abused by athletes, particularly in endurance sports like distance running. It was argued by USADA officials that the hormone is being used for performance-enhancing effects. UK Anti-Doping officials believe the use of thyroid hormone was particularly harmful to the health of athletes without a medical need for it.

The calls for banning thyroid hormone grew after World 10,000 meters bronze medalist Kara Goucher disclosed that she was prescribed Levoxyl, a drug, to treat an underactive thyroid but Mo Farah's coach Alberto Salazar encouraged her to take the stronger drug Cytomel that was originally prescribed for Galen Rupp, another of his athletes, when Kara was struggling to lose weight following the birth of her son. It is legal for athletes to take any of these drugs for treating a genuine medical condition but many health experts argue that it is a 'form of cheating' for healthy athletes to take thyroid medication.

Liz McColgan, the former world 10,000m champion and now a coach to daughter Eilish, the British 3,000m steeplechase No 1, remarked the use of Thyroxine, a hormone-replacement medication used to treat those with an underactive thyroid, is so widespread that something needs to be done and it needs properly investigating. Liz added there are people out there who are using it and gaining from it and that could be regarded as a form of cheating.

Dr. Olivier Rabin, science director for WADA, remarked the expert committee reviewing recommendations to the prohibited list had been analyzing research before arriving at their decision not to include thyroid hormone. For a substance or method to be added to the banned list, the World Anti-Doping Agency requires it meets at least two of three criteria: it is harmful to an athlete’s health, it is performance-enhancing, or that it violates what they call the “spirit of sport.”

Dr. Rabin said that members of WADA’s expert committee after reviewing their evidence were near consensus that thyroid hormone does not significantly pose harm to health of athletes and it does not offer any performance enhancement effect. Dr. Rabin also added that the range of what is perceived to be normal thyroid function varies from person to person and is not easy to standardize.

In the last few years, a small number of elite athletes, including Olympic medalists in track & field, have been diagnosed as hypothyroid that has promoted some prominent endocrinologists to consider the practice suspicious. Dr. Rabin said we monitor medicalization of performance because it can be a step into doping, but it doesn’t mean it is doping.

The changes made by WADA to the 2016 banned substance list that will take effect on January 1 and will be in effect for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, include the addition of meldonium and insulin-mimetics as banned substances and the removal of international motocross from the list of sports for which alcohol use is prohibited.

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Written by
Albert Wolfgang is a professional medical writer with over 20 years of experience. He hold multiple personal training certifications, including the coveted NASM and AFAA certificates. He graduated with honors with a B.S. and M.S. in biochemistry with a minor in physical studies. Albert and his team have trained over 100 IFBB professional bodybuilders, including Hollywood stars and many up and coming fitness stars.

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