FAQ on Actovegin
An Expert Explains How the Drug May Enhance Athletic Performance
Dec. 16, 2009 -- Actovegin, a potentially performance-enhancing drug for
athletes, is suddenly in the news after media reports that a Canadian doctor
who has also treated Tiger Woods is under investigation by U.S. and Canadian
authorities for possibly providing it and other substances to athletes.
According to news reports, Anthony Galea, MD, was arrested in mid-October in
Toronto, and the FBI has since entered the case.
Actovegin, produced by an Austrian pharmaceutical company, has legitimate
medical uses, experts say, but it is not approved by the FDA. Galea had
reportedly treated Woods with plasma therapy (not Actovegin) after a knee
injury in 2008.
WebMD asked Gary Wadler, MD, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency's
Prohibited List and Methods Sub-Committee and clinical associate professor of
medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, to fill us in on the
What Is Actovegin?
''Actovegin is a de-proteinized extract of calf blood," says Wadler. It's
been produced by Nycomed Austria GmbH since 1996, according to the company's
A statement on the site says "the raw material is calf blood sources from
calves below 8 months of age."
But its history goes back much further than 1996, Wadler says. "It has been
studied at least since the late 1970s," he tells WebMD.
What are the medical uses of Actovegin?
Among its uses, Wadler says, is the treatment of peripheral artery disease
A search of medical literature turns up several published studies of the
drug, with research ranging from treatment of cognitive disturbances after
stroke to ulcers.
What are the benefits of Actovegin use in athletes?
In research studies, Actovegin has been shown to exert insulin-like
activity, such as stimulating the transport of glucose in the body, as well as
That could be good news for athletes, Wadler says. "Athletes are always
looking to get more oxygen to working muscles."
''The idea here was to deliver it therapeutically, to improve the transport
and use of oxygen and sugar," he says.
What is the International Olympic Committee's view of Actovegin?
''In December 2000, the International Olympic Committee became sufficiently
concerned that Actovegin was being abused in cycling to put it on the banned
list," Wadler says. It had become the center of controversy after the 2000 Tour
de France, in which Lance Armstrong's team was accused of using the drug -- a
contention the team denied.
However, Wadler says, in 2001 the International Olympic Committee removed it
from the banned list pending further research.
How widely used is Actovegin?
Wadler says he doesn't think the drug is widely used by athletes, noting
that many other drugs work better.
The drug is sold via the Internet and is available in tablet form,
injections, infusions, and topical formulas such as creams, gels, and
ointments. According to the Nycomed site, the drug is marketed to hospital
specialists and general practitioners in European markets, China, Russia, and
Online, one pharmaceutical site offers 85 tablets of 200-milligram formula
Actovegin for $85.