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Acetaminophen helps exercise endurance in the heat

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Cyclists given paracetamol perform better in the heat, finds first study.

Paracetamol that is pain and fever reducer is found to help give exercise endurance a boost. But it isn’t because the medication helps us hurt less. Instead, researchers say it can improve the body’s ability to work out longer in hot conditions.

Acetaminophen significantly extends time to exhaustion in cyclists

Past studies have shown the medication can be used to relieve exercise induced pain; leading to longer workouts.

Researchers conducted another study to find out if paracetamol could increase exercise endurance in the heat too. This time they discovered it does, but not because it controls pain.

In their studies, scientists found a single dose of paracetamol increased cycling endurance. The reason is likely related to the ability of the common over-the-counter medication to keep body temperature lower, thus making it easier to exercise under hot conditions.

Eleven healthy study participant's were given either a dose of the medication or placebo for the study and then were given a graded cycling exercise test.

Would taking paracetamol be considered "doping"?

Lex Mauger, who led the study at The University of Kent's School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, explained in a press release that the finding has implications for competitive sports.

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"Firstly, consideration by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and local anti-doping authorities should be made about the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in sport -- on both health and performance grounds.”

Mauger also suggests the drug might treat heat related illness as a first-response medication that he says should be investigated.

How it works exactly isn't known yet, as Mauger says the investigation didn't include the specific biological mechanism underlying acetaminophen's performance enhancing ability.

The study appears in the September, 2013 journal Investigative Physiology.

According to the published study results: “Following acetaminophen ingestion, participants cycled for a significantly longer period of time (acetaminophen = 23 ± 15 min vs. placebo = 19 ± 13 min, p = 0.005) (95% CI = 90-379 s), and this was accompanied by significantly lower core (-0.15 °C), skin (-0.47 °C) and body temperatures (0.19 °C) (p

Many drugs have extra benefits that are discovered after they are investigated and approved for specific uses. For instance, some heart drugs can slow cancer growth. Paracetamol has also been shown to ease emotional as well as physical pain. Another example is aspirin that can thwart colon cancer and might even help with weight loss.

Its also important to note acetaminophen has recently been under investigation for the potential harm it can cause if it is not taken as directed.

What the researchers found was paracetamol increases exercise endurance in the heat based on their measurements of the cyclist’s skin and body temperature that was monitored during the study.

The study is the first to show the paracetamol boosts exercise endurance in the heat. Acetaminophen also lowered cyclist’s perception of feeling hot, all of which extended the amount of time to exhaustion. Update: The FDA is concerned about acetaminophen dangers. Don't take the medication without understanding the risks that include liver harm and serious skin reactions.

Updated January 21, 2014