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Alberto Contador loses tour title for clenbuterol: What is it?

February 06, 2012|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Alberto Contador was stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title for testing positive for clenbuterol, sometimes used as a performance-enhancing drug.
Alberto Contador was stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title for testing… (Ian Langsdon / EPA )

Alberto Contador, the 2010 Tour de France winner, had his title taken away Monday after being found guilty of doping, specifically for testing positive for clenbuterol.

The drug is a beta2-agonist that works as a bronchodilator, loosening muscles that line the airways so that air can pass through more easily. It has other properties as well that are attractive to athletes, some of whom use it as a performance-enhancing drug.

Clenbuterol can also increase heart rate, build lean muscle mass and promote weight loss. For those reasons it's been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee. Side effects can include nervousness, nausea, headaches and insomnia.

Clenburterol is also used as a veterinary drug but is banned for use in livestock in the U.S., since ingesting meat containing residue of the drug can be harmful to humans. In 1991 the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA said it would condemn meat that tested positive for traces of the drug.

In other countries clenbuterol is banned for livestock as well, but it occasionally shows up in meat from animals that have illegally been given the drug. The Associated Press reported that Contador argued that he ate contaminated meat on a rest day during the race. The court didn't buy his explanation and suspended him from competition, but he can return in August.

A 1995 study in the journal Public Health Reports detailed an outbreak of clenbuterol poisoning in Catalonia, Spain, in 1992, in which the drug was found in 47 urine samples. Poisoning was linked with eating veal liver; no deaths were reported.

"The findings reinforce the need to uphold the prohibition of the use of clenbuterol in cattle farming in those countries," the authors wrote, "and communities where it already exists and to contemplate a stricter regulation of its therapeutic use."

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