Diuretic use in teen sports on the increase

Young wrestlers have a ‘laissez faire' attitude towards taking diuretics it transpired at a tribunal where two competing female wrestlers, aged 16, who tested positive for diuretics, were prosecuted and are due to receive bans of between three and 24 months.

This is according to SA Institute of Drug-Free Sport's CEO, Khalid Galant, who says that the most disturbing insight to come out of the tribunal was that the two wrestlers alluded to an indifferent and cavalier attitude that exists amongst young wrestlers with regard to taking diuretics for sports purposes and other non-medical purposes.

The girls, who cannot be named because they are minors, were tested at the National Wrestling Championships in Bloemfontein in October 2010, await the written decision from the tribunal judge as to the length of their bans.

Galant says that extenuating circumstances may result in reduced sentences for both girls because they are minors, and in one case, due to peer pressure, the girl implicated another athlete who was not tested and who may still be subsequently charged.

Diuretics in sport common

Diuretics are often abused by athletes in sports where weight is an important factor (wrestling, boxing, rowing etc). The substance is used to excrete water for rapid weight loss. Other than weight category sports, diuretics are also banned in sport due to its use as a masking agent for steroids. Galant says that when testing positive for diuretics, athletes can face a ban that ranges from a warning to two years.

"In a sport like wrestling, athletes compete in weight categories and are ‘weighed in' before bouts.

Galant cites an example of the thinking: that means if I normally weigh 76kg, I will compete in the 76 to 84 kg category. However, if I can lose some weight (1 or 2 kg) before weigh-in, I can compete in the 69kg to 73kg category supposedly with smaller competitors.

He explains that the weight loss is temporary, through loss of water and that one can temporarily lose water weight quickly through extreme sweating, extreme starvation, a non-salt diet and/ or diuretics (also known as water pills).

Drugs especially bad for teenagers

Galant points out that although all these methods are deleterious to a person's health, it is especially dangerous to adolescents. He says that a diuretic is a prescription drug, which is banned in sport and can only be dispensed by a medical doctor or pharmacist and therefore a non-authorised person that exchanges or gives prescription drugs is committing a criminal offence. (trafficking or drug-dealing).

Some medical uses for diuretics are hypertension, gout and water retention. The use of prescription medicine for non-medical purposes is dangerous.

Galant warns that the abuse of diuretic substances affects an athlete's long-term prospects with the stigma of being a doper and it affects their health. "The predilection for popping pills can also be early warning signs for drug dependency habits," he says.

He adds that the problem of diuretic abuse is big and that anecdotal evidence also indicates widespread abuse among athletes for non-sport reasons and it is particularly prevalent in adolescents with eating disorders.

He stresses that all medicines should be kept safe and not shared with children and teenagers, even for a once-off time. - (Press release, March 2011)


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