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Potentially fatal new trend in performance enhancement: a cautionary note on nitrite

Andrea Petróczi and Declan P Naughton*

Author Affiliations

School of Life Sciences, Kingston University, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames, London KT1 2EE, UK

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Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2010, 7:25  doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-25

Published: 29 June 2010



Considerable interest has been shown by athletes and scientists in the potential for nitric oxide and associated vasodilators to enhance performance. This study aims to explore potential misuse of vasodilators by the athletes, and to highlight the growing concern over these agents.


Retrospective analyses of anonymous inquiries recorded in the Drug Information Database™ (DID™) between January 2006 and June 2008 (inclusive). In this 30-month period, the DID™ recorded 198,023 inquiries, of which 118,724 were UK Licensed Pharmaceutical products with a further 79,299 inquiries made for substance not found in the database.


Phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors, dominated by Viagra®, ranked 16th among the substance groups. The proportion of the inquiries made regarding PDE-5 inhibitors, especially in comparison to antibiotics, painkillers or alcohol, appears to be above the level that would normally be expected from medical need. No significant change in the months leading up to the Beijing Olympics was observed. On the contrary, the Nitric/Nitrate group showed a notable increase between 2006-2007 and 2008, suggesting a potential increase in interest in using nitric oxide among athletes.


With patents recently filed for the use of agents containing sodium nitrite/nitrate to enhance blood flow for performance enhancement in sport, coupled with anecdotal evidence from internet athlete forums and media, there is a concern that athletes may endanger their health by using vasodilators to enhance athletic performance. PDE-5 inhibitors or chemicals in the nitrate/nitrate group are currently not prohibited or tested for by the doping control agencies but some are highly dangerous to health and can lead to cardiovascular collapse, coma and death. Its promotion among athletes as a performance enhancing supplement is ethically and medically questionable.