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Natural performance enhancers closer than expected

by Lorenzo Patrick
May 2, 2013

CoreControl Glove

Courtesy: AVA Core

This body cooling system, created by Stanford researchers, can also boost athletic performance.

Eufemiano Fuentes, a doctor who specialized in sports medicine in Spain, was sentenced to a year in jail Monday for his role in a 2006 blood-doping ring that spanned multiple sports and included 35 athletes. It's the latest example of the lengths professional athletes will go to gain a physical advantage in their sport.

Those days may be coming to an end, if a pair of Stanford researchers-turned-entrepreneurs have their way. They discovered that regulating core body temperature has a huge impact on athletic performance. It's so important that they hypothesized that keeping the body close to normal temperatures might actually boost athletic performance. After 20 years and numerous clinical trials, Drs. Dennis Grahn and H. Craig Heller created the CoreControl cooling glove, manufactured by Dynavision International.

“Our body shuts down when we get too fatigued, and this machine allows you to push yourself that little bit extra,” said Vinh Cao, a research assistant at Stanford who used the machine for one of their studies. “When you reach what used to be your limit, you're shocked that you can keep going as hard as you're going.”

The researchers explain that the device takes advantage of the way humans dissipate heat from the body. There are sections of the human body, specifically the hands, feet and non-hairy areas of the face, that contain arteriovenous anastomoses (AVAs) that draw large amounts of blood to collections of veins close to the surface of the skin. When the body overheats, these areas fill with blood to cool the body, instead of going to the muscles that need replenishment from the blood's water and nutrients.

The pair posits that keeping the blood in the muscles should result in a slower onset of fatigue and an improved performance from the athlete. With a small vacuum to add light pressure and increase the gloves contact surface area on the hand, Grahn and Heller contend that their device is optimal for athletes looking for a clean boost. Cao, for example, was able to more than double the amount of pull ups he was able to perform after using the device over a number of weeks.

“Your general surface skin area is not ideal for heat transfer,” Grahn said. “These radiator structures provide a specific mechanism for heat transfer. So, when you put on an ice pack or a cool vest, you're cooling the blood beneath skin and underlying tissues, instead of the blood going directly to the heart and out to the critical organs that need to be cooled. It works, but it's a slow process for trying to cool someone down.”

Other experts, such as  Dr. Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University, are hesitant to give a full endorsement of the effectiveness of the device, but they don't disagree with the researchers' findings. “We're pretty convinced that having poor temperature control will probably impair your performance,” he said. “The question now is how this device performs compared to other traditional methods.”

The cooling glove was able to increase bench press strength by 22 percent, according to their most recent study. The collaboration also discovered the device can be used in a number of clinical settings, including aiding patients with Multiple Sclerosis who have an adverse reaction to temperature changes. Initially, the pair used the glove for the opposite effect – to warm up patients who had been under anesthesia.

Lack of universal endorsement hasn't stopped teams like the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders from using the glove as a part of their treatments. For Grahn, the impact the device could have on the world of performance enhancers is reason enough to continue.

“It's ridiculous anyone would ever consider shooting anything into their butt for performance enhancement,” Grahn said.