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Ditch iron injections to protect the health of student athletes

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe Japan Association of Athletics Federations (JAAF) has released guidelines designed to prevent the inappropriate use of iron injections. This must be used as an opportunity to make a clean break from an action that borders on doping.

Some junior high and high school students who are middle- and long-distance runners have been receiving iron injections usually used to treat anemia for the purpose of boosting their endurance. However, excessive iron accumulation in the body can impair the function of the liver and heart. Although iron injections might enable an athlete to produce good results in the short term, they could also result in shortening their athletics career.

The guidelines quite reasonably warned that iron injections could “interfere with a young athlete’s physical and mental health over their entire life.”

The guidelines restricted the acceptable use of iron injections to cases in which no other treatment options were available. They specifically said reasons such as “I have an important race coming up” and “I can’t run well” will not be accepted.

The growing use of iron injections was triggered by athletes suffering iron deficiencies due to food restrictions and the grueling training required to compete in races. It is understandable why the guidelines recommended athletes eat meals containing plenty of iron.

From this year, the JAAF will require all runners participating in national high school ekiden road relay races to submit data about their blood. If any abnormal figures are detected in this data and, following the questioning of the athlete’s coach, the improper use of iron is confirmed, that athlete will face penalties, including being barred from running in the relay. This can be described as an indication of the JAAF’s resolve to stamp out the improper use of iron injections.

More support needed

Blood data, which is personal information, will be made anonymous and used with the athlete’s consent. Effective training methods will be crafted by checking and comparing an athlete’s training routine, body type, age and improvement in their running times. This information should be used to boost athletes’ performance, while taking proper care to protect their privacy.

In January, the Japan Sports Agency sent boards of education and athletic organizations a notice urging them to prevent improper use of iron injections. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Japan Medical Association sent a similar notice to medical institutions. Cooperation among relevant entities will be vital on this issue.

Sport is an activity in which athletes train regularly and try to extend their own physical limits. However, many athletes end up harming their health because their strong desire to win results in them placing an excessive burden on their body.

In particular, female athletes are susceptible to feeling lethargic, the abnormal absence of menstruation and osteoporosis. Seventeen percent of top athletes involved in sports in which maintaining a certain body weight is very important, such as rhythmic gymnastics and figure skating, have experienced amenorrhea. As many as one-quarter had suffered a stress fracture.

In recent years, hospitals attached to the University of Tokyo and Juntendo University established specialist outpatient clinics for female athletes. These facilities check the athletes’ blood and bone density, as well as offer advice on nutrition. Support services like these need to be boosted.

In any sport, top importance should be placed on protecting the health of athletes. This point needs to be underlined once again.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2019)Speech



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