Athletes and Bad Medicine

Citius, altius, fortius – Olympic motto (Faster Higher Stronger)



Don’t you think that going Faster, Higher, and Stronger was meant for what an athlete could do with their own talent? Or do they need something more for an edge?  A drug, a piece of tape, cupping, or iv hydration are all bits of nonsense that Olympians have used that offer them no edge, but can cause damage. But, if you are an athlete functioning at a high level you want an edge – a tiny bit of a second is the difference between having a gold medal or being someone that no one remembers.  At the professional level pseudoscience is rampant – from football players to baseball players to golfers.

Often these fads are brought on by the trainers of the athletes. No basis in science, nutrition, or critical thinking, their job is to make their client think they have “special knowledge.” Something that other athletes don’t have – an edge. They claim some ancient science, and yet can offer their client no proof beyond an anecdote.  If the athlete has a good day after being cupped, or squeezed, or manipulated they will believe them – confirmation bias at its best.

Then the athlete gets in trouble, and the trainer is no where to be found to offer a science back up.  In fact, often the trainer will turn on the athlete to testify against them. Doctors are not off the hook – how many NFL doctors told the football players to “get back out there” after concussions, or tried to convince the world that concussions did not lead to long-term damage (thankfully changing).

It is the trainers who have urged athletes to take illicit shots, drugs, creams, “clear”, or other nonsense that might be outlawed by the various ruling bodies. But let us not let the

Cupping is just the latest silly bit of pseudoscience to enter the realm of athletes – but there is a long tradition of superstitions – from the playoff beard, to deer antler nasal spray.  Here is a brief list of a few of them:

Acupuncture: the controlled studies show that this offers no benefit and there is no qi that has ever been demonstrated.

Blood Doping: It can increase performance at some levels, but there is a limit, and beyond that limit it causes damage and is counter productive. It turns out that an  individual performance varies more by training.

Chiropractic: No evidence the neck cracking and back cracking do anything. Some help with lower back pain.

Cupping:  I would rather have a hickey. All pseudoscience, and those studies showing it are nonsense.

Deer Antler Spray: sorry, it doesn’t help you get better and even the PGA banned it, not realizing it really is inactive.

Hologram bracelets: increase some magnetic field that makes you feel better. It made the company feel better until the FDA fined them.

IV hydration: you don’t need an iv to get hydrated, you can drink and it does just as well if not faster and better.

Ice to injuries: there are a number of studies show it might delay healing.

Kinesotape: sworn to reduce injuries – they didn’t.

Oxygen Therapy: Increasing the concentration of oxygen via a mask for a few minutes on the sideline does not improve endurance.

Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) are a mixed bag: They are more superstition then they are science.  Most of the PED have not been tested but have been banned. Most of what is offered to athletes have been non-pharmaceutical grade drugs from foreign countries that have no benefit. It was the work out regimen and not the drugs that helped the athletes.  Barry Bonds and Roger Clements were gifted athletes who worked out a lot – something if Babe Ruth did (without drugs) he would have done even better in his career.  There is no drug that increases eye-hand coordination.

Protein Drinks: so many drinks, so much nonsense.  There is a limit to the amount of protein a person needs and most protein drinks exceed that amount by a lot.

Pseudoscience abounds, and as long as athletes listen to “trainers” or anyone who offers an edge they will try anything to perform better, heal faster.

Of course – I don’t recall that many of the athletes were taking science classes in college.

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit

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