A patient intelligently choosing to remain unnamed has been added to a growing list. An exclusive list I never imagined containing more than two or three names now includes a coterie of gentlemen, along with one not so gentle woman.
These good folks are all members of a group I call Club 54. Athletes that have experimented with Xenon gas (Atomic number 54) to improve performance.
Xenon is a colourless, odorless gas that exists in our environment in trace amounts. Discovered in 1898, Xenon was originally used in lighting. Since the 1950’s this noble gas has been used as the almost perfect anaesthetic due to its lack of known side-effects or toxicity issues. The only reason it is not used more widely is the exorbitant cost of extracting it from our atmosphere.
Fast forward a few years and the use of Xenon started showing up in a world where cost is a non-factor – sports.
Research has shown that breathing Xenon boosts the body’s production of HIF1 Alpha (HIF1A). HIF1A boosts the production of various compounds in the body, including Erythropoietin (EPO). EPO is a hormone that controls the production of red blood cells. More red blood cells mean more oxygen to the working muscles, leading to improved performance. Google Lance Armstrong.
Russian doctors and scientists have openly touted their affection for Xenon:
“ Xenon-based recovery methodology will aid Russian athletes in London (2012) and Sochi (2014) Olympic Games.”
While Russian officials would not confirm whether such statements were true, they did say there would be “nothing wrong” if they were. Given the fact that Xenon had been approved for clinical use for many years it was not included on the World Anti Doping Agencies Prohibited list of banned substances. That was until May 2014, when WADA decided to add this noble gas to the list.
While there is no accurate way to bust an athlete on a xenon test, there is a tell tale sign to look for. If you come into contact with a Russian athlete and he or she has a voice a few octaves lower than Barry White, you know you’ve got a Xenon doper. Xenon is much denser than the air around us and causes a lower frequency in the vocal cords, dramatically lowering the voice (opposite of helium). I full on freaked out when I received my first skype call from a couple of female speed skaters right off a hit of Xenon.
Researchers are looking into the benefits beyond lighting, sports and general anaesthesia. Xenon has successfully been added to ventilation mixes of newborn babies with otherwise poor chance of survival. It has been used to protect the heart in ischemic (lack of blood flow) injuries and has even been used as a neuroprotectant in Parkinson’s disease.
I do expect WADA’s new protocols to slow the admission of athlete’s into my exclusive club. In the meantime I’ve be looking for deep crying newborns and bass singers with pacemakers or movement disorders to boost my membership.
If you, or anyone you know fits this special group, please send them my way.