Athletes tread cautiously when it comes to everyday products
Lemsip and Nurofen the top most researched products of a long list of 3,510 items
Lemsip Max Cold and Flu Powder, which can be bought over the counter, was the most commonly searched product by Irish athletes in 2016. Photograph: Alan Weller/Bloomberg via Getty Images
With thousands of banned products listed on the world anti-doping database, Irish athletes could be forgiven for being confused when they feel a sniffle coming on.
What they can and cannot take is no simple issue with recent figures from Sport Ireland (SI) reflecting that far from searching for the performance enhancers of choice, anabolic steroids or EPO, it is over the counter Lemsip Max Cold and Flu Powder, which was the most commonly searched product in 2016.
In the increasingly fraught world of what athletes are permitted to ingest without returning an adverse urine sample, the most researched products among the 3,510 on the list are not exotic but the ones that people take every day for minor ailments.
Lemsip Max Cold and Flu Powder topped the list on 1,080 hits with Nurofen Cold and Flu tablets the second most popular with 888 enquiries. Both brands are popular over-the-counter medicines.
Third most popular brand among Irish athletes wondering if they can safely take the product is another from the Lemsip stable, Lemsip Max Sinus and Flu Hot Lemon, which attracted 746 hits.
Lemsip products account for three of the top five most searched drugs on Eirpharm, SI’s online source of anti-doping information with Lemsip Cold and Flu Hot Lemon the fourth on the chart with 607 hits and Non Drowsy Sudafed Decongestant Tablets in fifth place with 604 queries last year.
As has happened in the past, the most innocent medicinal product taken at the wrong time can return a positive sample and have an athlete banned for a doping offence.
Of the top five researched, not all are safe to take during competition. Lemsip Max Cold & Flu Powder and Lemsip Cold & Flu Hot Lemon are permitted, while Nurofen Cold & Flu Tablets, Lemsip Max Sinus and non-drowsey Sudafed are prohibited in competition but permitted outside of competition.
Part of SI’s education plan for athletes is to encourage them to keep up to date with the changing nature of the World Anti Doping Agency (Wada) list of substances as brand names can change from country to country.
Pseudoephedrine, which is an active ingredient in Lemsip Max Sinus and Sudafed, is used as a nasal or sinus decongestant and can also be used as a performing enhancing stimulant.
It was on the IOC’s banned substances list until 2004, when the Wada list was drawn up. However Wada subsequently changed their mind on the drug and it has been on the banned list since 2010.
Caffeine is also a stimulant but is not on the banned list, although it could be included on the Wada list later this year, depending on the outcome of an ongoing study.
The naturally occurring drug was added to Wada’s monitoring programme for 2017 so that experts could study whether athletes were using it “with the intent of enhancing performance”.
If it eventually makes its way back onto the list, federations will be forced to recommend everyone against drinking coffee as well as a whole array of soft drinks.
Red Bull, which some Irish rugby players consume in large quantities before matches, contains 80mg of caffeine in a 250ml can, about the same as an eight ounce cup of coffee. Some players have been known to drink four or five cans prior to competing.
Eirpharm gives the status of over 3,500 prescription and non prescription medications marketed in the Republic of Ireland. In a similar trend to last year, over 80 per cent of the products searched resulted in a permitted to be used in sport status.