Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Three bodybuilders end up in hospital after using NO boosters

The three bodybuilders that researchers at the New York University School of Medicine wrote about in Human & Experimental Toxicology lived to tell the tale. After taking NO boosters like MRI's NO2-Platinum or BSNís NO-Xplode they ended up in hospital, but after a short stay they were all released. But what exactly happened to them is not yet clear.

Three bodybuilders end up in hospital after using NO boosters
NO boosters contain substances that raise the concentration of the 'good free radical' nitrogen monoxide [structural formula shown below]. As a result the blood supply to the muscles increases, through the mechanism shown on the right. In addition, nitrogen monoxide helps the mitochondria to produce more energy, plus there are indications that NO is also necessary for post-training muscle recovery and growth and that NO boosters therefore also have an anabolic effect.

In some trials however NO boosters' performance has been disappointing. There are even some studies in which NO boosters not only had no effect on athletes' performance, but didn't even boost the concentration of NO.

Nevertheless large numbers of athletes swear by NO boosters. So, you might wonder, if these NO boosters are such a load of nonsense, where do the side effects come from that New York toxicologist Jane Prosser described in Human & Experimental Toxicology?

Three bodybuilders end up in hospital after using NO boosters Three bodybuilders end up in hospital after using NO boosters

Three bodybuilders end up in hospital after using NO boosters
The first case that Prosser describes is that of a 33-year-old bodybuilder who used NO2-Platinum. Before starting training he'd taken two doses Ė 6 tabs containing a total of 6 g arginine-AKG [structural formula on the right]. Arginine-AKG is a mixture of L-arginine and alpha-ketoglutarate usually in a 2:1 ratio.

According to a 2006 study Arginine-AKG has no effect on bodybuilders, but for this bodybuilder things were different.

When he started training he experienced heart palpitations and fainted. He was taken to hospital immediately but by the time he'd arrived he'd already vomited five times. The doctors who examined him found nothing untoward. Because the man complained of dizziness and drowsiness he was kept in overnight but was discharged the next day.

Prosser also describes another case of a bodybuilder who had heart palpitations while working out and almost fainted after taking an unspecified nitric oxide supplement. When he was examined in a hospital doctors found nothing unusual, except that the man's heart rate was higher. After a few hours the 21-year-old bodybuilder was allowed home.

Three bodybuilders end up in hospital after using NO boosters

Three bodybuilders end up in hospital after using NO boosters
The third case in Prosser's article was of a 24-year-old bodybuilder who developed heart palpitations and a splitting headache after taking two scoops of NO-Xplode [composition listed above]. He went to hospital where the doctors found nothing worrying. They gave him a paracetamol and told him to go home.

Both NO-Xplode and NO2-Platinum contain Arginine-AKG. Is this what caused the problems? When the researchers did a literature search they found one more case study of a bodybuilder who developed problems after taking Arginine-AKG: this man had undergone laser surgery for his eyes while using Arginine-AKG. He developed haemorrhages in his eyes, probably because the supplement had widened his blood vessels and suppressed blood coagulation. [J Cataract Refract Surg. 2007 May;33(5):918-20.]

The New Yorkers realise that the cases they describe may well be the results of the effects that the supplements industry claims for NO boosters. The same goes for the case study they found in the literature. But what about the scientists who say that NO boosters don't work?

The researchers resorted to an argument that many scientists have been known to use. They say that more research is needed on the safety aspects of Arginine-AKG. We, the simple compilers of this web magazine, have another theory: the scientists who say that NO boosters don't work have got it wrong.

Hum Exp Toxicol. 2009 May;28(5):259-62.

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