Meldonium, also known as mildronate, has recently made headlines. This newly banned substance has been used for years by athletes as a performance enhancer. Along with its athletic uses, meldonium is commonly used to treat heart conditions like angina and increase circulation.
The World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, chose to ban meldonium as of January 1, 2016. WADA placed the drug on its list of banned pharmaceutical substances because it has been shown to increase an athlete’s endurance. It is classified one of many hormone and metabolic modulators as it has been shown to improve heart function. In patients with myocardial infarction or ischaemia, meldonium can drastically improve quality of life. For healthy athletes, the drug can offer an unfair advantage.
Meldonium is often used in eastern European countries to treat heart conditions. About 100 athletes have tested positive for doping since the drug was disallowed, many of whom are from Russia. Most notably is Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova. She has stated that she took the drug to improve overall health and was not aware that it was a banned substance. Her stated reason for taking the drug was due to a magnesium deficiency and the fear of developing diabetes, which meldonium has been shown to prevent. She had also said that she may not have taken the drug since the ban went into effect. Indeed, it is possible that she and others like her could have taken meldonium prior to the ban. The drug has been shown to stay in the system for up to six months after the last dosage.
Still, the sports world must be careful about doping in the industry. A drug like meldonium increases exercise capacity by improving peripheral circulation. It also carries excess oxygen to muscle tissues. Meldonium may aid in rehabilitation and recovery time, can protect against mental and physical stress, and enhances activations of the central nervous system. Lastly, the drug improves stamina and tolerance, allowing users to exercise harder, faster, and for longer periods of time.
WADA monitored the drug for a year before banning it for athletic use. Because the drug is only distributed in 10 countries (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan), the reach of this ban is expected to remain small. Meldonium is not approved by the FDA in the United States.