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September 30th, 2010
06:55 PM ET

Could bad meat cause a positive drug test?

[cnn-video url="http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/sports/2010/09/30/riddell.friebe.contador.intv.cnn/"%5D

Medical experts are divided over whether bad meat could result in a positive finding in a doping test.

Reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador was provisionally suspended Thursday from competitive cycling by the sport's governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), after trace amounts of clenbuteral were found in the analysis of a urine sample taken during an in-competition test on July 21.

"It is a food contamination case of which I am the victim," the cyclist said, adding that the result was due to bad meat he and several other riders had eaten the day before the urine test. Read more here.

Clenbuterol is typically abused by athletes and bodybuilders for its ability to reduce body fat and increase skeletal muscle mass, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

There are some reports that clenbuterol has been illegally used to enhance the size of animals.  Human consumption of these products has been known to cause several outbreaks of illnesses in Spain, France, Italy, China, and Portugal, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Sickness typically occurs only a few hours after eating products containing traces of the substance  and can include  symptoms such as increased heart rate, nervousness, headache and muscular tremor, which typically resolve within two to six days.

Contador’s defense cannot be discounted, said Charles E. Yesalis, professor of health policy and administration, exercise and sport science at Pennsylvania State University.

“When I saw that defense that it’s meat, one, I wasn’t surprised at the defense and two, at first blush, it can’t be dismissed,” he said. “The notion that it’s demonstrated to increase muscle mass of cattle, I don’t think it’s a great leap that meat could have clenbuteral. I wouldn’t dismiss it.” In the same breath, Yesalis also said: “It could be a bunch of malarkey.”

Another expert in doping said these tests are highly sophisticated science. Medical tests can have false positives, but it's unlikely in this situation.

“There’s always a possibility of false results,” said Dr. Douglas McKeag, a director of the Indiana University Center for Sports Medicine, Indiana University, and member of the American College of Sports Medicine. “I would be very, very surprised if that’s the case here.”

Urine samples undergo a process known as mass spectrometry, a technique to detect compounds and the quantity.

The UCI said that the amounts of the prohibited stimulant found in the sample were low and that a second sample had also been tested.


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