As the news about Russian tennis ace Maria Sharapova admitting to take a banned drug meldonium which led to her failing a drug test at the Australian Open in January shook the world, health experts say that the drug – commonly given to heart patients – can increase oxygen uptake and endurance levels in healthy people.
Also known as mildronate, anti-ischemic drug meldonium is manufactured in Latvia and has not yet been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Meldonium is generally given to patients with angina and heart failure as it improves the performance of the heart muscles.
“It can also boost the working of other skeletal muscles and works like L-carnitine which is used to gain muscle mass as well as improve the ability of those with angina to exercise without chest pain or discomfort. L-Carnitine is an amino acid used for the conditions of the heart and heart related problems,” explained Dr Upendra Kaul, dean and executive director, (cardiology and academics and research department) at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute here.
“I can’t say whether Sharapova was aware of this fact or not or was on a placebo but yes, it can help healthy people, especially athletes, gain endurance and increase oxygen intake,” Dr Kaul told IANS.
According to Dr Subhash Chandra, chairman (cardiology) at BLK Super Specialty Hospital, meldonium drug is given to heart patients for angina treatment.
“Yes, this increases endurance in healthy people and specially athletes use to have it to increase stamina. It is not an approved medicine by the US FDA. Since January 1, it has been banned for athletes by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). The drug increases blood flow that enhances exercise capacity in athletes,” Dr Chandra told IANS.
WADA had stated in September last year that the anti-ischemic drug would be added to the prohibited list and Sharapova has blamed herself for not taking note of the new list.
Sharapova said that she began taking the medication after irregular electrocardiograms (EKGs) and being deficient in magnesium. Her family also has a history of diabetes, she added.