Doping With Tylenol

Doping With Tylenol

Doping With Tylenol

Science, technology, and life.
April 11 2008 9:09 AM

Doping With Tylenol

In yesterday's piece on nerd doping , I mentioned that I'm a skeptic of anti-doping policies for at least three reasons. One, many of the complaints tend to be based on harm (e.g. from steroids), but that harm can be mitigated or avoided through improved techniques. Two, the lines we draw tend to be pretty arbitrary . Three, once we've trampled the old rules (e.g., the employment of private coaches ), we often wonder why we ever enforced them.

This morning's batch of news underscores the first point. A summary of a study presented at a biology conference reports :

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


Taking daily recommended dosages of ibuprofen and acetaminophen caused a substantially greater increase over placebo in the amount of quadriceps muscle mass and muscle strength gained during three months of regular weight lifting. ... [T]he chronic consumption of ibuprofen or acetaminophen during resistance training appears to have induced intramuscular changes that enhance the metabolic response to resistance exercise, allowing the body to add substantially more new protein to muscle.

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are the key ingredients in Advil and Tylenol, respectively. You probably have these performance-enhancing drugs in your medicine cabinet.

Don't start popping Tylenol and expecting huge quadriceps just yet. The participants in the study were all 60 or older, with an average age of 65. It's possible that the muscle-boosting effects apply only to people who have lost muscle mass and strength, not to athletes or other healthy young folks who just want to add to their normal allotment. But the fact that it works in old folks reinforces another problem with regulation of performance-enhancing substances: If a substance is OK because it helps a 60-year-old recover the strength of a 25-year-old, why shouldn't a 25-year-old be allowed to try the same substance in pursuit of additional strength? Surely today's 25-year-old athletes are stronger than the 25-year-old athletes of previous, less nutritionally and medically savvy generations. That's why records keep falling. Why exactly should we draw a line at the norms of the 20 th -- whoops, 21 st -- Century?

I'm sure you've got your answers. Let's hear them .