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Caffeine Use Still Widespread in Elite Athletes

Doping agency dropped ban, but usage seems high; placebo effect may help explain popularity

MONDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- Although the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) no longer bans caffeine in sports, questions remain on the eve of the Beijing Olympics as to caffeine's real and perceived efficacy in enhancing athletic performance, according to a commentary published in July in BMJ Clinical Evidence.

Mark Stuart, deputy editor of BMJ Best Practice, writes that lifting the prohibition on caffeine does not appear to have significantly changed athletes' use of the substance. A study on athletes in the United Kingdom found that caffeine's use as an ergogenic aid, particularly among elite athletes, remains common.

However, another study found that urine concentrations of caffeine fell overall in many sports, except in cycling and power lifting. This may imply that athletes regarded the removal of caffeine from the banned list as a sign that it offered fewer advantages than previously thought. A review of two small studies found that improvements after consuming caffeine may be due to a placebo effect, which may explain why athletes continue to use it despite WADA's new stance.

"There is an obvious difference in the perception of caffeine as a performance-enhancing substance between WADA and the many elite athletes who continue to use it. The placebo effect may contribute to this debate, although its result on performance enhancement is still unclear. Regardless of this difference, and given the evidence-driven backing of WADA from the scientific community, the potential for widespread caffeine use at this month's Olympics will, hopefully, not threaten the integrity of fair play in sport," the author writes.

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