Original Sports
Published: May 9, 2009
Vitamin D May Allow American Olympians To Dominate In 2012
by Staff


Evidence that Vitamin D improves athletic choice reaction time, muscle strength, speed, and endurance may provide an American Olympic advantage in 2012 much like the Russian and German athletes domination in the Olympics for 30 years from the 1950s to the mid 1980s. Those elite athletes performances were linked to a training technique in which the athletes may have been irradiated with Vitamin D-producing UVB radiation. The American College of Sports Medicine published a paper Athletic Performance and Vitamin D that outlines such evidence.

Controversy surrounding upping the Vitamin D intake is paralleled to "doping." However, most athletes, professional or domestic, of the day are deficient in Vitamin D and upping the intake of the vitamin would not be considered an athletic unfairness, but rather maintaining a healthy vitality potentially preventing "stress factors, and other athletic injuries." Those doctors and trainers that do not treat such may be faltered with medical malpractice and hindering the athlete to reach his/her optimal potential as outlined below.

Co-authors of this article include Professor Timothy Taft, the team physician for the NCAA basketball champions, the UNC Tar Heels, and Professor John Anderson of the UNC School of Nutrition.
 
Several quotations from the paper:
 
Indeed, in reading the early German literature, it seems the athletic benefits of UV radiation were widely known by the 1930s, at least in Germany: ''It is a well-known fact that physical performance can be increased through ultra-violet irradiation. In 1927, a heated argument arose after the decision by the German Swimmers' Association to use the sunlamp, as an artificial aid, as it may constitute an athletic unfairness, doping, so to speak.
 
In 1952, Spellerberg reported on the effects of an extensive program of irradiation of athletes training at the Sports College of Cologne-including many elite athletes-with a ''central sunlamp.'' They reported a ''convincing effect'' on athletic performance and a significant reduction in chronic pain due to sports injuries. Improved athletic performance with irradiation was so convincing that Spellerberg notified the ''National German and International OlympicCommittee.''
 

Few athletes live and train in a sun-rich environment, thus few have ''natural'' 25(OH)D levels, with the exception of equatorial athletes, such as the runners of Kenya. Another possible exception was the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, where athletes had to arrive early to acclimatize to the 7400-ft altitude. Because UVB penetration of the atmosphere is higher at high altitudes, because Mexico City is relatively close to the equator, and because of thsummer season, ambient UVB irradiation from sunlight would have been intense during the 1968 summer games and should have rapidly increased               25(OH)D levels of any athlete acclimatizing outdoors. Many new world records were set that summer, and the Americans, perhaps unexpectedly, won more gold and total medals than either the Russians or East Germans. Although most experts attribute the impressive number of world records to decreased ambient air pressure, vitamin D may also have contributed. For example, the Americans dominated in outdoor sports, winning 42 of their 45 gold medals in     outdoor sports, whereas the Russians won most their gold medals (18 of 29) in indoor sports. Both the number of new world records, almost entirely in outdoor sports, and the percentage improvement in outdoor world records, for example, Bob Beamon added 21 inches to the long jump (Fig. 6), are consistent with the theory that vitamin D improves athletic performance.
 
Further controversy may arise as activated Vitamin D is a steroid hormone, in exactly the same manner that testosterone is.  The paper concludes that:
 
Because activated vitamin D is a steroid hormone, questions may arise if use of its precursor, vitamin D, constitutes an unfair advantage, ''doping, so to speak,'' as the Germans noted in 1940. However, unlike testosterone or growth hormone, vitamin D deficiency is probably common among athletes.

Furthermore, untreated vitamin D deficiency is associated, not only with stress fractures and other athletic injuries, it is also associated with numerous serious illnesses and is a risk factor for early death. Withholding vitamin D in vitamin D-deficient athletes seems to violate most rules of modern medical ethics and may expose the sports medicine physician to needless future liability. Although science may or may not find performance enhancing effects of vitamin D in the future, good medical practice in the present always supersedes performance enhancing theories awaiting future research. Vitamin D deficiency may be quite common in athletes. Stress fractures, chronic musculoskeletal pain, viral respiratory tract infections, and several chronic diseases are associated with vitamin D deficiency. Those caring for athletes have a responsibility to promptly diagnose and adequately treat vitamin D deficiency.
 
For comments or copies of the paper, contact the lead author, John Cannell, MD. Dr. Cannell will be speaking a the American College of Sports Medicine in Seattle May 27, 2009.

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